Poundland - the discount high street store - has defended its multi-buy deal on paracetamol after coming under scrutiny from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS).

The RPS has written to the retailer expressing concern that its ‘buy two get one free’ deal on the painkillers is ‘highly irresponsible’ and should be stopped ‘immediately’.  

The body said that while Poundland ‘has not broken the law’ governing the sale of paracetamol, its promotional deal ‘contravenes guidance from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) on best practice for the sale of medicines for pain relief’.

The guidance is endorsed by the British Retail Consortium, of which Poundland is a member, RPS added.  

A spokesperson for Poundland told the Pharmacist yesterday (3 December) that the company’s deal for three packs at £1 has remained the same ‘for many years,’ and meets the retailer’s ‘legal obligations’.

‘At Poundland we’re a discount retailer where the majority of our items are at a fixed price of £1. It’s therefore difficult to consider selling fewer packs to customers as this would represent poor value to customers, but what’s important though is we operate within the law – that’s clear you can offer three packs for £1,’ the spokesperson said.

They added: ‘We do however recognise that while this meets our legal obligations, there’s clearly been a discrepancy between current law and the voluntary medical guidelines, which of course is a situation that’s unique to a retailer with a fixed price point like ourselves.

‘As we’ve said before, our offer is constantly under review to ensure its both legal and good value to customers.’

MHRA guidance for paracetamol

In its letter to Poundland, the RPS said retailers who sell medicines have a responsibility to ensure they are sold appropriately and paracetamol is a medicine that needs to be treated ‘with particular caution precisely because it is so easy to overdose’.

‘It was in reaction to the high levels of death caused by this medicine that the MHRA issued guidance on its sale,’ the letter said.

The RPS also highlighted researched carried out by Oxford University’s Centre for Suicide Research, which found that since the 1998 Medicines for Human Use Regulations restricted the pack sizes of paracetamol, there has been ‘a beneficial effect in terms of reduced sizes of overdoses and numbers of deaths and liver transplantations’.

The letter urged Poundland to change its position on the matter and comply with the MHRA guidance.

‘Not like other consumer products’

Sandra Gidley, RPS president, said: ‘We are extremely concerned by Poundland’s buy-two-get-one-free deal on paracetamol. It’s highly irresponsible and it should be stopped immediately.

‘Medicines should not be treated like other consumer products. Whilst paracetamol is an effective painkiller, it is also a very easy medicine to overdose with and can cause harm, or even death. Guidance on sales and restrictions on pack sizes of paracetamol were introduced to reduce harm and suicides and have been successful in doing so. Promoting multi-buys on paracetamol in this way is unacceptable.

Ms Gidley added that the RPS has already contacted Poundland on a number of occasions to request they stop promoting paracetamol through multi-buys.

‘Poundland’s decision to offer their customers this deal contravenes the voluntary agreements in place which protect the health of the public. Responsible retailers do not provide these kinds of deals,’ she said.