In fact, alarmingly, most of those working as 'pharmacists' with the 27,000 medical stores in the state don't even have the required qualification to hold the post. While on paper, Telangana has 55,000 qualified pharmacists, only a few thousand are employed by pharmacies. Reason: cost cutting.
"Most stores, to avoid paying a fee to pharmacists, resort to employing unqualified people at a cheaper rate. While the minimum salary of a pharmacist is Rs 13,000 for 8 hours a day, ordinary staffers are available at anywhere between Rs 6,000 and Rs 7,000 for 12 hours," said Dr B Chandrasekhar, president, PharmD doctors' welfare association, Telangana.
To add to the concern, these regulations -- framed by the Pharmacy Council of India (PCI) i.e the top regulatory body governing pharmacy professionals across the country -- have not yet been officially adopted by Telangana. "Though we have submitted a representation to the government to adopt them for implementation across the state, they haven't considered our appeal yet," Chandrasekhar rued.
For the record, the regulations lists several pro-patient steps that a pharmacist needs to follow without fail. This includes dispensing medicines prescribed by a Registered Medical Practitioner alone, not substituting it with another medicine, counselling patients before dispensing a certain drug and maintaining a record of drugs given to a patient.
Highlighting the importance of implementing these rules in the state, Dr A Sanjay Reddy, president, Telangana pharmaceutical society, raised concerns about them not being followed by most pharmacies.
"Over 60% of people manning the pharmacy stores -- whether in the city or in rural areas -- are unqualified helpers without any formal degree in pharmacy. How can one expect these unqualified people to dispense correct medicines to the patients?" Dr Reddy questioned.
In fact, the dubious practice of employing unqualified people in pharmacy stores in both Andhra Pradesh and Telangana was officially confirmed for the first time when the AP drug control administration raided 717 pharmacy stores across 23 districts in December 2013.
The raids revealed that 474 shops (66%) of the total 717 stores had dispensed scheduled H drugs to patients in the absence of a qualified pharmacist. In Hyderabad, out of 109 stores, the authorities found that 88 shops had violated this rule. This runs contrary to Section 42 of the Pharmacy Act, 1948, which says only a qualified pharmacist should dispense prescription medicines or else it would attract six month imprisonment and Rs 1,000 fine.
"Even now, there is not much change on the ground as barring corporate group-run chains of pharmacy stores, one can find unqualified people running pharmacy stores across the city. It may be convenient for big pharmacy stores to cut costs by employing 7-8 unqualified people, but it will lead to disastrous consequence for patients ," said Dr A Ramesh, secretary, AP Pharmacy Teachers Association.
Pharm.D @ SRIPMS-CBE-TN