Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Deal With Blackmores

Spare a thought for the Pharmacy Guild of Australia. They have a public relations problem following their proposed deal to incorporate Blackmores Companion range of dietary supplements into GuildCare software.

Fortunately, we have a solution to the PGA’s problem in the form of an inspirational song. If you want to cut to the chase, you’ll need to go to the end of the article. Otherwise, please read on:


Australian pharmacies supply millions of prescriptions each week. In Australia, each prescription drug has survived rigorous clinical testing, sometimes over many years; yet from time to time, complications arise with some patients with some drugs.

The Guild came up with a brilliant coup.

What if every time a potentially problematic drug was dispensed, it was flagged to prompt the pharmacist to suggest the customer also purchase an appropriate Blackmores supplement?

Win, win, win; for the customer, the pharmacist, and of course, Blackmores!

Unfortunately, what seemed like a good idea at the time has backfired badly. Reactions to this announcement were swift, and must have come as a bit of a shock.

The Press Worried About It

Doctors Didn’t Like It

Their first reaction was to check their calendars to make sure it was September 26 and not April 1. They then used a variety of forums to lambaste the idea, their criticisms being:

  • Complications from prescription drugs occur in a minority of patients. If all patients receive the supplement it will be both expensive and unnecessary for the majority.
  • Such complications should be followed up on a patient-by-patient basis and may require pathology to determine the problem.
  • Doctors prefer to be in charge of their patient’s drug regimes – not to be second-guessed by pharmacists.
  • The supplements suggested are complementary medicines. Like many  Blackmores products, they have not been subjected to the rigorous clinical testing required for the original prescribed drugs. In fact their medical value has in some cases been seriously questioned; the Scientific literature  provides little or no evidence of their efficacy.
  • Complementary medicines are as likely as orthodox medicines to interact in situ with other drugs in unexpected and dangerous ways.

Here’s comment by Dr Mick Vagg which first appeared in his Fish Slapper of the Week on

The Independent National Prescribing Service Condemned It

“Companion selling as a routine practice is not an appropriate way for pharmacists to provide individual patients with what they need, and it may cause more confusion about medicines and possibly adverse effects.”

Even Pharmacists Didn’t Like It

               * Guild endorsement of Blackmores CAMs backfires

               * Blackmores deal contravenes legislation:APESMA:  

(both AusPharm e news Tuesday 27 September 2011)–ape

Many pharmacists made comments in on-line forums.

Some said that The Guild represents pharmacy owners rather than working pharmacists.

Some commented anonymously for fear of victimisation by the owner-employer. They questioned the ethical basis of the deal on the grounds of individual health care.

Some questioned the ethicality of dealing with Blackmores to the exclusion of other providers.

Some commented on the extreme bad timing of the announcement. Alternative medicine has recently come under greater scrutiny in Australia, and the deal had the effect of portraying pharmacists as unprofessional profiteers.

Comments also included the view that genuine pharmacists would politely take on board The Guild’s suggestions then, as in the past, ignore them in favour of behaving professionally.

Our Solution to the PGA’s Image Problem

One has to admire the determination of the Pharmacy Guild to benefit its members. Such a sense of Mission (despite the carpings of nay-sayers) deserves a reward. So we’ve written a song, to the tune of Marching Through Georgia, a stirring Union rallying cry of the American Civil War. Listen to it here:


Once in ancient history the Guild promoted Health

Now we’re better managed and we’ve changed our course by stealth

Now our Prime Directive is increasing member’s wealth;

So we are touting for Blackmores


Hoorah! Hoorah! We own a Pharmacy.

Hoorah! Hoorah! Though our advice is free;

Along with each prescription what an earner this will be,

Now we are touting for Blackmores


The scripts had rigorous trialling, but the customer won’t mind

If point-of-sale supplements aren’t tested double-blind,

“Pill-Pushing Snake-Oil Sellers”- why are people so unkind –

Just ’cause we’re touting for Blackmores?


Hoorah! etc

8 Responses to Pharmacy Guild of Australia’s Deal With Blackmores

  1. terrykelly3 says:

    Ironically, this could be a bit like “The Striesand Effect”. This outrageous move by Blackmore’s, and the Pharmacy Guild, could lead to greater scrutiny of their products which might actually impact adversely on their business.
    The reaction of the scientific, skeptical and parts of the pharmaceutical community to this issue has been swift and impressive.

  2. Helen T says:

    According to APESMA pharmacists are now getting blamed for this even though it was the pharmacy owners guild that struck the deal. My brother’s a pharmacist and reckon the guild has sold out big time.

  3. Andy says:

    Unfortunately, employed pharmacists must share the blame. Judging by the shelves filled with homeopathy, ear candles and associated nonsense, they work in businesses that appear to profit from selling nonsense to naive and gullible customers. It’s difficult to offer much sympathy for their position if they happily sell such things rather than advise against them. As Cool Hand Luke said to his prison boss, “calling it your job sure don’t make it right”.

    • Chereen says:

      Just because a store is stocked with a particular product doesn’t mean that there is an obligation for the customer to buy it. While there is not necessarily any proof in some of these products if they provide relief to a certain subset of peoples and don’t provide any harmful side effects that are common with many prescription medications what is the harm?

      • Terry Kelly says:

        These unproved and unregulated products get an undeserved “aura” of legitimacy from being sold in supposedly scientific and ethical pharmacies. Skepticism is where Science education and consumer rights overlap. Consumers are potentially being ripped off, and maybe harmed, by this dodgy deal.

    • Pasulj says:

      Dear Andy

      Have you bothered to ask a pharmacist HOW a pharmacy is run? Who is in charge of what is sold in the store? And IF they would ever and under what circumstances offer such a product?

      Going by your obviously ignorant post I will assume no. Individual pharmacists DO NOT have a choice as to what is sold in the store. Indeed my boss, the pharmacy manager of a chain pharmacy, actively tried to stop selling ear candles and stopped ordering them. What happened? A few customers called head office and head office thought it would be nice to BLAST my boss and threaten his job. Nice hey? Oh and its not just one store that does this. Pharmacist positions, let alone manager/full time positions are hard to come by in Melbourne. If you don’t buckle, you have no job. The only thing we can do in this situation is give appropriate advice. Don’t blame me for the horrible circumstances I am forced to work under. I can only hope to give the best advice and work to the best of my abilities in such an environment.

      Assuming that a pharmacist will happily sell a woo product is just plain insulting and ignorant. I’m sorry but how dare you? What do you think – that pharmacists don’t give a XXXX about patients? That we slaved away at 4 years of University and a year of internship (full time work (XXXX pay too 15/hr and illegally underpaid for time I worked but was not allowed to claim) along with exams and study) just to not care? Why should I use all the knowledge I have accumulated? Oh look an fatal interaction – XXXXXX. I’ll let the patient just die. Oh the Dr has prescribing a teratogenic drug to the pregnant lady – why who cares?! Let the baby be deformed! As long as I can make my sale :) …. (hopefully you can see the sarcasm dripping off the walls)

      Oh yes and now that I am a registered pharmacists I’m just LINING my back pocket at 22/hr; just lining it…

      Just for your information: It is drilled into us from day 1 at uni – the patient comes first. Oh and it is against the law to force a pharmacist to practice otherwise.

      I spend my time in pharmacy checking every drug, dose, dosage interval, drug interaction, appropriateness of therapy, appropriateness of dose form, changes in medications, and PRIDE myself in giving evidence based advice. The number of mistakes I pick up on scripts from doctors, and advice given by doctors on a daily basis would amaze you – but that is my job. I give free advice to my patients on weight loss, disease management, smoking cessation, etc… and the number of primary diagnoses, referrals, health information I give to my patients, and my colleagues too on a daily basis is a great service to the community. Again this is my job. Undermining our role as health professionals and actively destroying the trust that the community has in us is only doing damage.

      And if anyone had bothered to do any reading what so ever, they would have seen that Louis Roller and Phillip Burgen, two very influential lecturers at Monash University Faculty of Pharmacy, have argued with homeopaths that these things SHOULD NOT be sold in pharmacies. In fact we are having Louis Roller appear at the university (coming out of retirement just for this occasion) to talk to the students about this fiasco; and Steve Marty will hopefully be speaking too.

      You call yourself a skeptic. A skeptic should make conclusions based on the information available – if you don’t know the facts, stop assuming things or just plain making it up.

      Kind Regards
      Your local pharmacist

      • keng2 says:

        Thanks for your comments, Pasulj. There are other employed pharmacists, who having invested a great deal of time and money in following their chosen profession are experiencing a dilemma between speaking out and keeping their jobs. A quick glance at some on-line forums bears that out.

        The actions of the CBA in supporting the Guild’s deal with Blackmores highlights the amorality involved; it’s good for the financial bottom line, so why bother even discussing anything as unimportant as ethical health provision?

        I think most of us who have worked for an employer, if we’re honest have at some stage made a decision not to ‘rock the boat’. It can be a great source of stress.

        Please excuse my minor edits to your post [para 3 of our Comment Policy].

        Also in regard to jumping to conclusions. in your reply to Andy where you said “You call yourself a Skeptic…” . I don’t know if Andy does call himself a Skeptic. He’s not one of our “usual suspects” at any rate. Like you, he’s chosen to use our site to record an opinion on a topic which interests him. You’re both very welcome to continue doing so.

  4. Pasulj says:

    My issue was not with the discussion about the ethics of the Blackmores guild agreement, which I thoroughly disagree with. My issue is with comments such as Andy’s blaming regular pharmacists and painting us as money hungry and having a callus disregard towards our patients. This couldn’t not be further from the truth and I am sick of other skeptics, Inc Richard Saunders and in the past Dr Rachie (although after speaking with me her tune has changed I am happy to say) from falsy accusing pharmacists of this.

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