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Sainsbury's refuses to distribute swine flu treatment


Primary care trusts will not be able to include any of Sainsbury’s 230 in-store pharmacies in their local plans to set up antiviral collection points.

The policy restricts the options for primary care trusts attempting to establish a network of convenient points for “flu friends” to pick up antiviral medicines such as Tamiflu on behalf of patients hit by the H1N1 pandemic.

Other supermarkets are making their in-store pharmacies available as collection points. A spokesman for Tesco said it was in discussions with PCTs and had “agreed to collection points at some of our pharmacies”.

A spokesman for Sainsbury’s said its policy was “long standing” and had been in effect since plans were developed to deal with a potential outbreak of avian flu.

He added that there had been no change in its policy and that the chain had not been asked to amend it by the Department of Health. The spokesman confirmed that “one or two pharmacies may have been approached” by PCTs asking if they could become collection points.

Asked why Sainsbury’s head office would not allow individual pharmacies to act in this way the spokesman said: “It would draw a lot of potentially unwell people into our stores. This is the sensible and prudent thing to do.”

In a statement, it said: “A supermarket, with thousands of daily visitors, is not a suitable collection point as it would lead to increased risk to shoppers and colleagues. This policy is in accordance with the government’s advice for those with flu to avoid public places.”

But a spokeswoman for Unison said the attitude of the company was in “stark contrast” to that of NHS staff. She added: “It’s the friend, not the ill person, who will collect the drugs”.

News of the chain’s refusal to act as a collection point in the pandemic follows controversy over the government’s relaxing of market entry rules in 2005 which allowed large and out-of-town shopping centres to open pharmacies.

The change had been recommended by the Office of Fair Trading but opposed by small high street pharmacists which claimed it could put them out of business. Almost one in three of Sainsbury’s 800 supermarkets have an in-store pharmacy.

A spokeswoman for high street chain Boots said its stores were “proactively working with PCTs” in their plans for antiviral distribution and a number of them had already taken on the role.


Readers' comments (5)

  • How does the UNISON spokes person know that it will be a friend that collects Tamiflu? Does she know that some people have no friends, and that some people will stay well away from their swine flu friends ( often with good reason)?
    Sainsburys are there to sell produce. NHS staff are there to care for ill & potentially ill people.
    I understand why Sainsburys are trying to protect customers. It is conflicting to critise the company for declining to be an outlet.In fact Sainsburys is teaching us a lesson in prevention.

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  • so these friendless people will not want to buy shopping. If a supermarket stocks Tamiflu then it will better be able to provide its staff with it should they need it.
    Or are Sainsburys going to act like the airlines and stop people who look unwell from shopping I don't think so!

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  • I think it is fine that Sainburys have taken this stand. I know of 2 people who collected there own Tamiflu so I am sure many more will. ( i even came across a girl who went out drinking with mates even though she ws symptomatic and was on tamiflu)
    It isn't like Sainburys are the only place that can be used and will leave people with no collection point.

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  • Quite right "comment 6:51", staying in bed & drinking plenty fluids is more appropriate than shopping expeditions, considering the mild & short duration of H1N1 for the average person. Advice to have a week's supply of shopping should be given. There has been no suggestion that any store will stop unwell looking people from shopping, so let's not exaggerate. People without support can nip into a corner store for shopping ,without the same risk of passing on the virus to as many people.
    For vulnerable people with underlying conditions,specialist care by the NHS is more appropriate than sneezing over lots of people in shopping queues.
    The good news is that the current wave has peaked, showing that containment has worked. We have to concentrate on containment to minimise the expected next wave. Please don't criticise Sainsburys for being couragous enough to have a sensible,caring policy. Sainsbury staff should not be in the store if they have H1N1 symptoms and most of them will not require Tamiflu anyway. An employee who does need Tamiflu need not necessarily live near the store, so a different outlet might be easier to access.
    We need to keep things in perspective

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  • I applaud Sainsburys for this and suggest that Tescos and other supermarkets do the same. No-one can guarentee that only flu-friends will collect the drugs and so putting unnecessary risk to the staff. I can't imagine that anyone with symptoms would want to be out shopping, they certainly won't feel like it and if they can't get someone to collect the medication they won't want to go into any public place if it is not necessaryThe distribution centres should be set up in areas that encourage quick collection and not to trail through a shop to do so. Tesco are probably assuming that these people will do some shopping at the same time thus attracting more customers. Well done Sainsburys... you have got it right.

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