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In-store APMS practice markets itself with Boots products

By Gareth Iacobucci

Exclusive: An APMS practice located in a Boots store gave out goody bags of cosmetics from the pharmacy giant, it has emerged.

The practice, which was procured under the nationwide Equitable Access scheme, registered 1,000 patients in its first three months of opening. But GPs have raised concerns over the marketing technique, warning it is inappropriate for a pharmacy chain such as Boots to help promote one particular practice.

Students in Bristol were given goody bags containing products donated by Boots ­ and a flyer advertising services available at the practice, run by out-of-hours co-operative Brisdoc. Boots has hosted the practice in one of its city-centre stores since last July, but has no direct financial stake in it.

But local GPs are unhappy at the move, warning that Boots is leaving itself open to accusations of indirect inducement ­ which may break NHS promotion rules ­ by including gifts alongside the practice leaflet.

The row is the latest in a string of controversies over the marketing of GP services amid moves to step up competition between practices (see box, left).

Dr Simon Bradley, chair of Avon LMC, said: 'It's entirely reasonable for practices to [advertise their services], but that's very separate from a particular pharmacy or any other commercial body associating themselves with one particular practice and promoting it. Practices can't promote individual pharmacies. It was naive of them.'

He added: 'If we lose practice boundaries, it will become increasingly important that we tell patients about the services available, to be able to compete.

'But the key is to do it in a professional way and don¹t offer inducements for patients to register. [Boots] lay themselves open to that accusation. I don¹t consider it to be best practice.'

A Boots spokesperson confirmed staff from the practice gave out goody bags containing Boots products but added: 'This in no way constitutes an inducement to join the practice.' The company insisted that the move was not common practice across the business.

Dr Simon Bradley, chair of Avon LMC Advertising APMS

- Pulse revealed last June that a GP-led health centre in Plymouth had taken out eight-second ads in a local multiplex cinema

- NHS Norfolk promoted its GP-led health centre on city buses

- The GP-led health centre in Sheffield has marketed its services by leafleting the public within a shopping centre, targeting student communities, and telemarketing and leafleting within Sheffield businesses