By Mark Hanna 24/07/2017 3


The Pharmacy Council has opened consultations on a proposed new code of ethics.

Following an initial consultation in 2015 where they’d proposed changing one part of the existing code, the council has since decided the whole code could do with a review.

The Pharmacy Council is the regulatory body for pharmacists in New Zealand, set up by the Health Practitioners Competence Assurance Act 2003. As well as overseeing the registration of pharmacists, they are also responsible under Section 118(i) of the Act for setting standards of ethical conduct to be observed by pharmacists.

I met with the Pharmacy Council just prior to the new consultation being opened, as part of my volunteer work with the Society for Science Based Healthcare. They told us that the revised code is intended to be more principle-driven, with associated guidelines that will be able to be updated more easily so as to keep pace with the evolution of the healthcare industry and with new legislation.

The Pharmacy Council of New Zealand.

As well as these principles, the proposal also includes a draft of the Pharmacy Council Complementary and Alternative Medicines Statement and Protocol for Pharmacists as one of its appendices, and the council is also seeking feedback on this part of their proposal. Here are the consultation questions they’ve put forward, though they note that these are only intended as a guide and submissions can comment on any part of the proposal:

  1. Can you think of any ethical values for the pharmacy profession that appear to be omitted from the revised code?
  2. Considering the explanation of the term “patient” and equivalent terms in the key terms (key terms):
    1. Do you think the term “patient” is the best word to use, most of the time, to express the relationship that exits between the pharmacist and the person they are directly or indirectly caring for or providing health care information to?
    2. Are there any specific clauses where you can think of different term that could be more appropriate?
  3. Considering the new clauses that relate to the sale of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM, clauses 1g, 4h and 4hh): Do you find it clear that the Council is not opposed to the sale of CAM when they have demonstrated benefits for patients, have minimal risks, and the patient is making an informed choice?
  4. Are there any other comments you would like the Council to consider?

In the Society for Science Based Healthcare’s 2015 submission, we stressed the importance of a code of ethics that would effectively protect patients. The context of the original proposed change was a complaint we laid in 2014 regarding an Auckland pharmacy promoting and selling a homeopathic product, in which the Pharmacy Council determined it could not enforce its existing code of ethics:

The council forwarded the complaint to the office of the Health and Disability Commissioner, but both organisations were unwilling or unable to enforce it as this would involve telling a pharmacy which products they can or cannot sell. Neither the Pharmacy Council nor the Health and Disability Commissioner seems willing to enforce a code of ethics when this would involve telling pharmacists which products they can or can’t stock.

The Pharmacy Council’s proposal document notes that the Council “has a duty to protect the public”. A code of ethics which is not enforced may as well not exist. We feel the addition of a new section requiring that sufficient information can be provided to consumers in order for them to make an informed choice regarding whether or not to purchase a complementary therapy is in line with what consumers could reasonably expect. We hope that complaints about potential breaches of this standard would be considered by the Pharmacy Council or another body, so that it can offer some measure of consumer protection.

Our submission will view the draft revised code in this light, looking at it in terms of how effectively we could expect it to prevent patients from being misled in pharmacies.

If this is important to you too, I hope you’ll consider making a submission. As the consultation document notes, submissions can be sent via email to enquiries@pharmacycouncil.org.nz, and (at the time this article was published) submissions will close at 5pm on Friday 18 August 2017.


3 Responses to “Pharmacy Ethics: Have Your Say”

  • “Do you find it clear that the Council is not opposed to the sale of CAM when they have demonstrated benefits for patients, have minimal risks, and the patient is making an informed choice?”

    I’ll have a read of the consultation document before submitting, but this caught my eye. Does this mean that the Council will be opposed to homeopathy, a set of beliefs that are infamous for lacking evidence of efficacy? Something tells me that the Council will be very slow to act on something that brings big profits to it’s members, even if those profits are derived from, what is essentially, nonsense. The enormous trust and respect I have for pharmacists is unfortunately tainted by these sorts of business practices.

  • Judging from the experience of our 2014 complaint, it seems like the Pharmacy Council tries very hard not to oppose any specific products, even if they are as obviously baseless as homeopathy. I think that’s more due to a generally conservative attitude, keeping in mind that their role is defined by legislation, rather than a profit motive.

    I’m not sure I’d be so charitable about the Pharmacy Guild though. They’re the professional organisation that represents pharmacy owners (as opposed to pharmacists in general), and also the only organisation I could find who submitted positive feedback on the original proposal to weaken the 2011 code of ethics.

    Australia has actually been a great leader in this respect though. Following the 2013 research report on homeopathy from their National Health and Medical Research Council[1], both the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia[2] and the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners[3] put out position statements opposing the promotion and sale of homeopathic products by their relative industries.

    More recently, the interim report on the Australian government’s Review of Pharmacy Remuneration and Regulation[4] has been quite clear on the issue of homeopathic products sold in pharmacies. This is something I expect we’ll be raising in the submission from the Society for Science Based Healthcare:

    “In particular, the Panel notes that the supply of homeopathic products through pharmacies is not benign but, rather, risks creating a perception of reliability and efficacy in the mind of the consumer based on the status of the pharmacy as a healthcare provider. This may encourage patients to choose a homeopathic product over a conventional medicine with robust evidence of efficacy, which creates a risk of harm to the patient’s health.”

    [1] https://www.nhmrc.gov.au/_files_nhmrc/publications/attachments/cam02a_information_paper.pdf
    [2] http://www.psa.org.au/downloads/ent/uploads/filebase/policies/position-statement-complementary-medicines.pdf
    [3] http://www.racgp.org.au/download/Documents/Policies/Health%20systems/PPI-PositionStatement-Homeopathy-v1.pdf
    [4] http://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/content/7E5846EB2D7BA299CA257F5C007C0E21/$File/interim-report-final.pdf

  • Just a reminder that submissions on this are due at 5pm tomorrow. If you want to have your say, this is your chance.