The endorsement agreement would have seen a range, specifically formulated by supplement maker Blackmores to work alongside key classes of prescription medicines, carrying the Pharmacy Guild Gold Cross logo.
The ‘companions range’ included a supplement containing zinc gluconate to complement the use of antihypertensives, another containing Coenzyme Q10 and vitamin D3 to support statin use, a third containing magnesium to aid the use of proton pump inhibitors and the fourth containing a probiotic strain to reduce bloating and diarrhoea associated with antibiotics.
The deal would have seen pharmacists receiving optional prompts via a pilot IT software programme to recommend these products.
Medical industry backlash
However, the industry backlash to the endorsement was widespread.
The Guild said: “It is overwhelmingly clear that the public perception of this endorsement was damaging to the reputation of community pharmacy. Both the public and sections of the broader pharmacy industry expressed strong concerns about the proposal.”
It explained that it had no intention of undermining the professionalism and integrity of participating pharmacists.
The Pharmacist Coalition for Health Reform (PCHR) has hailed the decision to break the deal.
It said that if the Guild had consulted more widely, they would have known that it was not in the best interest of Australian pharmacists.
It added that its 500 strong poll of Australian pharmacists showed that 94% disagreed with the deal and believed it to ‘undermine the professionalism of pharmacists’.
Dr Steve Hambleton, president of the Australian Medical Association (AMA) told FoodNavigator-Asia: “The AMA thought the companion deal was outrageous... the Guild did the right thing by withdrawing from the arrangement. It is a win for patients, a win for the pharmacy profession, and a win for the traditional positive relationship between family doctors and pharmacists.”
He added: “There is no proof that dietary or vitamin supplements could offer any additional benefits to prescription medicines. Commercial interests should not be allowed to get in the way of the great trust held in pharmacists by the community and by doctors.”
At the time the deal was announced, Hambleton had said that it clouted the credibility of pharmacists and raised concerns that it could result in patients taking dietary supplements in place of prescribed medication.
But the Guild stated that the strong level of public concern was a result of “some media reporting of the endorsement which was ill-informed and inflammatory.”
It explained that the idea that pharmacists would participate in ‘up-selling’ without regard to professional standards is offensive to its profession and that the Guild rejects this claim.
Prior to the withdrawal, Marcus Blackmore, chairman of Blackmores, described the backlash as undeserved.
He stated: “The companions range is four products that are backed by scientific evidence and they have been developed in response to specific consumer needs. Any criticism of their potential benefit highlights the need for further healthcare professional education on medicine-related nutrient deficiencies.”
Blackmores has said it will continue to market its ‘companion range’ without the Gold Cross endorsement.
It added: “We remain absolutely committed to supporting pharmacists in providing better natural health advice in their community.”