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Boots customers ‘baffled’ by plastic prescription bags

May 17, 2019

“Livid” and “baffled” customers have been complaining to Boots after receiving their prescriptions in plastic bags rather than paper ones.

One was so incensed she took her bag back to the store with “shame on you!” and “paper, not plastic!” written in capitals in black marker pen.

Boots said it was using plastic bags because some prescriptions are now assembled at a central location, rather than in local pharmacies.

Plastic was “more durable”, Boots said.

“When items are bulkier or have to travel longer distances, we use a plastic bag as these are more durable and help us to protect patient confidentiality and support patient safety,” the Nottingham-based company said in a statement.

Boots UK signed up to the UK Plastics Pact last year and said at the time it was “committed to reducing single-use plastic”.

Boots said plastic bags were used for repeat prescriptions compiled by machine

Roisin Moriarty said she was initially puzzled when she was given a plastic bag but became “increasingly angry about it as I went back to work”.

“I told my colleagues, who were equally appalled, then decided I could not let it lie,” she said.

Ms Moriarty ended up returning her plastic bag to Boots.

“I scrawled ‘SHAME ON YOU!’ and ‘PAPER, NOT PLASTIC!’ on it in black marker pen and took it up to the pharmacy counter with an overly-polite ‘This is for whoever cares to take any notice’ then walked out,” she said.

She said she intended to use a different pharmacy if Boots gave her another plastic bag.

“I haven’t cancelled my repeat prescription yet as I want to see if it’s plastic again. If so, I intend to explain, very loudly, why I’m taking my business elsewhere. Even if my own prescription is in a paper bag, if I see others in plastic, I’ll do the same.”

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Why is Boots using plastic prescription bags?

Boots has previously told the BBC it dispenses more than 200 million prescription items a year

Boots said the majority of its prescriptions were still dispensed in store in paper bags.

However, some repeat prescriptions were assembled at a “Dispensing Support Pharmacy” (DSP) in Preston, and these prescriptions were sealed in plastic bags.

The bags are filled automatically by machine, so Boots said they needed to be “robust”.

“The bags also need to be heat-sealed shut, which reduces the risk of products falling out of the bags in transit,” the company said.

Boots pharmacy staff have previously told the BBC they were under too much pressure and feared mistakes would be made, while some patients have died due to dispensing errors.

Boots said the DSP helped to “remove some of the routine dispensing workload from individual stores so that we can free up our pharmacists to better support patient care in store”.

The DSP was trialled in 2014 and has been expanded to provide repeat prescriptions to 380 stores.

Prescriptions assembled in store still come in paper bags

Another customer, Jack, said he was “baffled” when he collected his prescription in a plastic bag.

“For five years I’ve collected my prescriptions in paper bags,” he said.

“Essentially it looks like a cost-cutting exercise for the company by making things centrally.

“They either need to go back to the old model or find a way of doing it the new way without plastic. Cost-cutting shouldn’t be an excuse for using plastic after years of using paper bags.”

‘Increased wastage’

Boots says patients can “choose not to receive their medicines in a plastic bag and can ask the pharmacy to make this change”.

However, a member of staff told the BBC this results in more waste.

“I work in Boots stores that respond to these complaints by putting a note on such patients’ files to repackage their prescriptions into paper bags once they are received in plastic from DSP,” the staff member said.

“This hides the use of plastic from customers and results in increased wastage as now both a plastic and a paper bag are being used for their prescriptions.

“I can only imagine how upset customers would be if they knew this was the action taken as a result of their complaints.”

Boots has been asked to comment on this.

‘Irresponsible’

Bob Knightley complained to Boots after he received his prescription in a plastic bag in April.

“They deserve to lose more customers for such a bad decision,” he said.

“They charge you for a plastic carrier bag to discourage using plastic, then introduce a system that replaces paper bags with plastic ones. [It is] irresponsible.”

Liz Jones complained to Boots about her husband’s medication being in a plastic bag.

“I’m livid that the UK’s major pharmacy is daring to send thousands of prescriptions out in plastic,” she said.

“They used to be all put in a paper bag and stapled at the top perfectly safe, strong and as environmentally friendly as possible.”

 

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