Woolworths' health "checkouts" plan slammed by health groups

03 July, 2014

Supermarket giant Woolworths has been called on to scrap plans to introduce in-store health checks in its supermarkets.

The backlash comes after a spokesman for Woolworths told ABC Radio on Wednesday (2 July) six stores in NSW and Queensland had been trialling a system where nurses and pharmacy students offer customers basic health checks, and the scheme would be expanded to other sites across Australia.

"Woolworths Supermarkets have been offering customers cholesterol and blood pressure tests as a trial in nine stores starting in October 2013," the spokesman said.

"There are clear rules for these services, which we respect.

"The trial will be extensively reviewed before a decision is taken to roll it out to more stores."

'Dangerously undermines' health care

Australian Medical Assocation President A/Prof Owler said the proposal dangerously undermines quality health care and could put patients at risk.

"Australia has a quality primary health care system that is built on general practice and highly qualified GPs leading primary care teams," A/Prof Owler said.

"It would be dangerous for health checks to be conducted in supermarket aisles by people who are not appropriately trained or qualified.

"Nothing is simple or straightforward when checking a person's health.

"In the proposed Woolworths environment, there would be no access to patient history and there would be no privacy.

"The people conducting the checks would not have the knowledge or experience to advise people about lifestyle factors, medications, side effects, or related conditions.

"The checks would not be conducted in a safe, clinical environment.

"It would be highly inappropriate to conduct health checks in a location that sold alcohol, cigarettes, sugary drinks, energy drinks, and high-fat foods – the things that contribute to ill health in the first place.

"These checks also run the risk of making people think they would not have to see their doctor.

"This is a dangerous idea that should be stopped before it gets off the ground.

"Good health is not something that you can pick off a supermarket shelf."

A "targeted move … against the intent of Ministerial Determination"

National President of the Pharmaceutical Society of Australia Grant Kardachi said the statement by Woolworths that staff providing health checks would not offer medical or product advice and was "just another thing we can do for our customers" was a concern.

"Woolworths then went on to say any customers with readings outside a normal range would be directed to a doctor or pharmacist for further advice, indicating that those providing health check-ups are making health decisions which must be left to fully qualified health professionals operating in an appropriate environment," Kardachi said.

"Making health decisions without access to medication records is inherently dangerous. It is a concern to PSA that staff who are not fully qualified are being asked to undertake this role.

"This is a very targeted move by Woolworths to introduce pharmacist services into their supermarkets and is totally against the intent of the Ministerial Determination banning pharmacies in supermarkets.

"The fact that Woolworths only recently denied any plans for pharmacies in supermarkets, and then turns around and introduces this scheme is a clear indication that it is not being open and frank about its intentions."

"Certainly worth considering"

However Consumer Health Forum spokesman Mark Metherell said Woolworths' proposal was practical, as long as the retail giant was aware of the certain responsibilities also involved.

"At a time when many consumers are not only time poor but also face the prospect of rising out-of-pocket health costs, the provision of supermarket checks is certainly worth considering," he said.

"Woolworths must also recognise that there is more to providing health checks than there is in selling frozen peas," he said.

"It must be prepared to take responsibility for ensuring effective follow-up when its customers are found to be suffering serious conditions."