Prone as I am to venting my spleen to friends, family and via my blogs, I’m not generally the sort to make formal complaints to companies. Having spent a number of years dealing with customer complaints in a corporate / financial environment, I’m all too aware that complaining is pretty much futile, and moreover, if I’m enraged enough to complain about something, then the response I’m likely to get will only increase that anger tenfold. Yes, despite being a placid individual in person, and not the sort to become embroiled in heated discussion on-line either, I’m an angry fucker. As a rule, however, I focus that anger constructively, into my writing.
Sometimes, though, I get grumpier and angrier than usual, and those times often occur when I’m not feeling well. And, not feeling well last week while under the cosh of a heavy cold, I decided to use my lunch break to pick up a few off-the-shelf pharmaceuticals to alleviate my suffering when purchasing some foodstuffs including a jar of organic strawberry jam, and a couple of beers for the evening (it would have been rude to pass on bottles of Shepherd Neame’s Spitfire and Marston’s Pedigree at £1 a bottle, after all).
Suffering from blocked sinuses, a headache and uncomfortable back, and aware that restrictions exist regarding the sale of paracetamol, I thought better of filling my basket with enough drugs to anaesthetize an elephant and only went for the essentials. Even that proved to be a problem, though, prompting me to fire off a stern email to the supermarket concerned….
In the York Monks Cross store today during my lunch hour I attempted to purchase 1 x 16 Ibuprofen, 1 x 16 Paracetamol and 1 x Max Strength Congestion relief but was told by the cashier, Tina, I could only purchase 2 units and had to nominate one of the products to leave. This is absurd.
I understand the law limits the sale of paracetamol to 32, but I should therefore still be able to purchase 32 Paracetamol and up to 32 Ibuprofen as these are not of the same ‘family’ of drugs.
Even assuming the limit of 32 tablets of ANY painkillers is justifiable, given that the decongestants I wanted to purchase contain neither ibuprofen nor paracatamol, but phenylephrine hydrochloride, this product should not have counted toward the 32 tablet / 2 unit limit. These 3 different products would clearly not constitute an overdose hazard.
The NHS website states: “GSL medicines can be sold by a wide range of shops, such as newsagents, supermarkets and petrol stations. Often, only a small pack size or low strength of the medicine may be sold. For example: the largest pack size of paracetamol that shops can sell is 16 tablets but pharmacies can sell packs of 32 tablets. the highest strength of ibuprofen tablets that shops can sell is 200mg but pharmacies can sell tablets at 400mg strength.”
Because the 3 products were required for different purposes, it was then necessary for me to extend my lunch break in order to purchase the third product – a box of 16 200mg ibuprofen – elsewhere. Not only was this extremely frustrating and inconvenient, but also wholly unnecessary, and all due to a complete misapplication of the law. I would strongly recommend you ensure all your staff are given clear training on the sale of certain products.
The reply I received a couple of days later proved to be kind of dismissive bollocks I should have expected, penned in a style that veered between the informal and the businesslike, but maintained a suitably patronising tone throughout:
Thanks for your email. I’m sorry you were unable to buy all the over the counter medication you recently wanted to while in our Monks Cross store. I can understand this would have been disappointing as you then had to extend your lunch break to ensure you could purchase all three.
As a reputable retailer, we take our responsibilities very seriously. There is a limit on the number of paracetamol based products our colleagues can sell through the checkouts. There is a limit in place of 32 tablets in total, this can consist of 16 paracetamol and 16 ibuprofen for example.
We train all our colleagues to take this responsible selling approach very seriously. I can appreciate this may have seemed slightly over zealous on this occasion, however my colleague was following their training.
There are pharmacies available in our stores were customers can purchase larger quantities of medications should the need arise. Please don’t ever hesitate to speak with the local pharmacist should you need to.
We’re grateful you’ve taken the time to contact us with this feedback and we look forward to seeing you in store again soon.
So, while acknowledging the limit for paracetamol tablets is 32, it would appear that Sainsbury’s have decided rather than risk breaking the law on medications, to dumb it down to the dumbest point imaginable and then take it a step further by reinterpreting the limit of 32 tablets of paracetamol at a non-pharmacy counter as 32 tablets of anything… unless – as this email could also be taken to mean – they believe ibuprofen is a paracetamol-based product. Which it clearly isn’t.
Assuming it’s simply the case that they’re enforcing a strict limit of 32 tablets of any type at regular checkouts (and while I could have got to the pharmacy counter, it seems needlessly obtuse to make customers queue at two separate counters to purchase items they can, by law, purchase at just the one), then I’ll concede that it wasn’t the cashier being (apparently) ‘overzealous’, but the store itself.
And this really the crux of my issue: the laws concerning the sale of paracetamol products are not being applied with any common sense. Am I to take it from the email that I couldn’t buy, say, ibuprofen for my headache, antihistamine for my hayfever and fibre tabs for my blocked-up bowel in one transaction if the 3 products in combination exceeded 32 tablets despite the fact that none of them contains paracetamol and there are no laws concerning the sale of either?
Anyway, a couple of days later I found myself back in the same store (working in an office on the edge of an out of town shopping park doesn’t give much scope for a diverse range of activities and if I don’t get out of the office I’m likely to crack up). I had no pharmaceuticals in my basket this time, but was once again short on time and short on patience.
There’s a reason I dislike supermarkets – and shops in general, and most public places for that matter, and that’s because Sartre was right: hell is other people. I was reminded of this as I waited for what felt like an eternity to buy my booze and bananas and cheese, thanks to the two overweight, mutton-dressed as lamb middle-aged hags in front of me who were too busy gassing and cackling to pack their shopping into bags as it came through the checkout. Although they were together, they were shopping separately, and the one who had been served was busy clucking and tearing open a bag of mints she’d bought. Offering one to her lard-arsed mate, she proclaimed enthusiastically, “Ooh, they’re really minty!”. Of course they are : they’re fucking mints.
On the final item being rung through, the minty binty dropped her card and flapped a coupon around before realising her shop was 23p short of qualifying for the extra Nectar points offered on the coupon, prompting a call of “Sweets! Do you have any sweets on the end? No, wait, I need new potatoes!” and proceeded to wobble off to pick up some spuds to take her shop over £50 so she’d get her 200 extra Nectar points. The cashier then failed to scan said spuds, and the drippy tart bunged them in her bag. On realising the error, the cashier asked for the potatoes back. “Oooh, you’d better scan ‘em, I don’t want to be settin’ off the beepers!” the chubby dumbass clucked – as if they put alarm tags on £1 bags of fucking new potatoes!
As I seethed in silence, I had ample time to read and reread a new notice which had been tacked beside the checkout regarding the sale of 12 certificate games and films, notifying customers that. to purchase these products, they’ll need to provide proof of age. Acceptable forms of ID are a current passport or driving licence. Ok. But if the age limit is 12, then a 13-year old could legally purchase said items… but what 13 year old carries their passport or has a driving licence?
A lot of people just tell me to chill out and let it all go, but I can’t. It’s years of people doing precisely that which have brought us to this ridiculous situation. The trouble is, I don’t know what’s worse: retailers, local governments, etc., and the countless others who consider themselves to have a ‘social responsibility’ taking it upon themselves to dictate what we can buy, do, say, etc., etc., by effectively rewriting the law under the guise of ‘responsibility’ and ‘protection’, or a population stupid enough to believe potatoes might be security tagged and actually need those decisions making for them…
Stock photo of sheep in a supermarket, happy to provide ID in order to purchase a bar of soap (limited to 1 per customer in case someone eats it).