A Which? report says that one- third, nine out of 27 staff in pharmacists' shops in London, Newcastle, Kent and South Wales did not consult their pharmacist when they sold 'pharmacy-only' medicines.
In two cases, restricted medicines were sold, illegally, when the pharmacist was out of the shop. Even when assistants did check, they were only 'going through the motions'.
A total of 30 pharmacists were visited by Which? researchers who asked for pharmacy-only drugs. These include a number which have until recently been available on prescription only. In 27 shops out of 30 'no attempt was made to find out what the customer wanted the medicine for or to advise them on its use,' Which? says.
In 10 pharmacies, researchers, briefed on symptoms for thrush, simply asked for Canestan cream. In nine out of ten cases, they were sold the wrong type of Canestan, the one suitable for athlete's foot, not the cream for internal use.
Which? says the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's code of ethics does not define supervision of assistants clearly enough.
Increasingly powerful prescription drugs are being made available over the counter.
In 1993, 14 were added and another 10 become available in July. Last year people in Britain bought pounds 1.2bn worth of drugs in pharmacists' shops.