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The pharmacy protocol is a set of guidelines laid down by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) to ensure medicines sold and advice given is safe and appropriate for the customer, and that the pharmacist is able to intervene in sales of of over the counter (OTC) medicines to ensure they are used safely and effectively. Where the pharmacist considers a sale to be inappropriate they are also able to explain the reasons for refusing a sale to the customer and refer them to their GP or another healthcare professional.


By the end of this module you will be able to:

  • Use the WWHAM questioning technique.
  • Obtain the information you require using other techniques.
  • Use open and closed questions
  • Deal with objections.

The content of this module will be very familiar to most counter assistants, however recent Which? reports have highlighted that the pharmacy protocol is not always being used in sales of medicines. This module will re-affirm your existing knowledge to enable you to confidently put the protocol into practice for every customer.

Before they can sell any medicine or offer advice to customers, all staff who work in a pharmacy must be fully trained on the protocol as part of their medicines counter assistant training. The protocol must detail:

  • When medicines can be sold
  • Who medicines can be sold to
  • When to refer to the pharmacist
  • A list of medicines for which the pharmacist wants to be involved in the sale
  • WWHAM questions

Each pharmacy will have its own protocol which may contain additional information specific to that pharmacy.

The points that must be in the protocol are covered in the Medicines Counter Assistant course and most staff will be familiar with them, here is a brief recap:

When medicines can be sold - General Sales List (GSL) and Pharmacy medicines (P) can only be sold when the responsible pharmacist is on duty on the premises. Prescription Only Medicines (POM) cannot be sold over the counter.

Who medicines can be sold to - OTC (GSL and P) medicines, which can be sold to most customers, excluding those customers detailed in "when to refer to the pharmacist" as long as the protocol is followed.

When to refer to the pharmacist - if a customer (or person the medication is for) falls into one of the following categories, the pharmacist will want the customer to be referred to them:

  • Under 12 years (some pharmacists may reduce this age to children under 8 years).
  • Over 60 years.
  • Taking any other medication.
  • Has another medical condition, e.g. diabetes or heart condition.
  • Pregnant or breast feeding mothers.
  • Showing or reporting any warning or "red flag" symptoms.
  • Customers making repeat purchases or requesting excessive quantities of medicines.
  • Customers requesting products for conditions outside of their product licence.

Details of medicines for which the pharmacist wants to be involved in the sale – your pharmacist will stipulate certain medicines that they wish to be involved in and have the opportunity to intervene in the sale of. The most common medicines are POM to P switches, medicines where non-prescription use is restricted to certain conditions, and medicines that can be misused or abused (see the Counter Excellence module Abuse or Misuse of Over the Counter Medicines). In addition, emergency contraception should only be sold by the pharmacist.