UK regulator the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) has today (18 July) ordered a leading online pharmacy to stop using adverts claiming that ordering online repeat prescriptions could save the NHS millions.
The ASA ruled that Pharmacy2U’s claims that ordering online repeat prescriptions could save the NHS more than £300m per year was ‘misleading’ and ‘not substantiated’. It concluded that the adverts ‘must not appear in their current form’.
It comes after the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and 24 members of the public complained to the regulator about a Pharmacy2U Tweet and two TV adverts, which stated that turning to online prescribing services ‘could be better for patients and the NHS’, potentially saving the service £300m a year.
A spokesperson for Pharmacy2U told The Pharmacist that the NHS and the ASA had previously acknowledged that ‘managing repeat prescriptions online saves both patients and the NHS time and money’.
They continued: ‘Given this acknowledgement and approval from Clearcast – [a non-government organisation that pre-approves TV ads] – we are disappointed that the ASA has decided to uphold a complaint specific to the way the saving was presented in our advert, which had been generated using a calculation previously approved by the NHS.
‘We will work with the ASA to amend the presentation of the cost saving, but the essence of the advertising – that online management of medicines could be better for patients and the NHS – remains.’
Pharmacy2U argued that the projected savings were based on figures publicly obtained from the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) and that the word ‘could’ did not make the claims ‘absolute’.
Room for misinterpretation
However, the ASA ruled that people might misinterpret the content of the adverts.
It said: ‘Although we recognised that the UK healthcare sector was undergoing change and that online repeat prescription services had the capacity to save the NHS money, we considered that Pharmacy2U’s calculation, based on the annual savings if all pharmacies were paid the same rate as Pharmacy2U, was not currently a realistic or likely scenario.
‘Pharmacy2U’s projected annual savings was based on a wholly different scenario whereby the NHS paid all other pharmacies the same rate as Pharmacy2U, and we considered that scenario would be dependent on a large number of factors and changes taking place in the UK.
‘We therefore considered that the projection was different in nature to the savings claim in the ads, as it would be understood by consumers to be based on a currently realistic scenario, and did not provide adequate evidence for the specific value of the £300m claim.’
‘Pharmacies must not be put at disadvantage’
An NPA spokesperson told The Pharmacist that ‘local community pharmacies should not be put at a disadvantage by such advertisements’.
They added: ‘People’s choices about where to obtain their NHS medicines ought not to be skewed by misleading and unsubstantiated claims.
‘At heart, this is about informed choice for patients and fairness for all pharmacies.’