I was shocked to hear this week that pharmacy-only medicines may have been found on sale in a 99p Store in the Midlands. Luckily a keen-eyed pharmacy manager spotted the packets of Nurofen Cold and Flu and the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) is now investigating the full nurofenextent of unauthorised sales.

Why is this an issue? Well, while Nurofen Cold and Flu can be an effective medicine it is not suitable, or indeed safe, for everyone. This is because it contains a strong decongestant which can raise your blood pressure – an issue if you already have high blood pressure or suffer from heart problems.

When sold at a pharmacy, a member of the pharmacy team is available to check the suitability of medicine and suggest an alternative if appropriate.

Another concern about the bargain store discovery is that it’s alleged the medicines had been imported from another country. This may mean that the products haven’t been licensed by the MHRA. In the UK, the MHRA checks all medicines and gives them a product license number. You can see if a medicine has been approved for sale in the UK by checking the packaging for this – it is a set of numbers starting with ‘PL’.  A ‘pharmacy-only’ medicine will also have a capital ‘P’ in a box on its packaging.

Really, whenever you’re buying medicines, even if it’s a painkiller which you can buy in a petrol station, it’s advisable to seek expert advice as to whether that is the right medicine for you and the ailment you’re looking to treat. For example, if you’ve sprained your ankle you shouldn’t take ibruprofen within the first 48 hours of the injury as it can interfere with the healing process. Paracetamol is better, together with following the PRICE protocol (protect, rest, ice, compression, elevate). Then, if you still have pain and inflammation after 48 hours, ibuprofen is a good anti-inflammatory painkiller to switch to.

Top tips:

  • Check the packaging for a ‘PL’ number to see if a medicine has been licensed for sale in the UK
  • If there is a boxed ‘P’ on the packaging the medicine should only be sold at pharmacies where a member of the pharmacy team is able to ask you questions to check who it’s for and whether it’s suitable for them
  • When buying medicines always seek advice from a member of the pharmacy team to make sure they are the most appropriate for your needs