People seeking advice from pharmacy staff rather than seeking it from their GP are being given unsuitable and potentially dangerous information in a third of cases, an investigation has revealed.
Consumer watchdog Which? sent undercover investigators to 101 pharmacies across the UK and found that about third of them gave unsatisfactory advice.
The investigators asked about emergency contraception, the migraine drug Imigran Recovery and traveller's diarrhoea. The resulting advice was analysed by a panel of three experienced pharmacists.
Overall, investigators received unsatisfactory advice in 48% of independent pharmacies, 38% of national and regional chains and 26% of the "biggest players" and supermarkets.
Particular problems were identified with sales of Imigran Recovery, which used to be available only on prescription and should now only be sold by a pharmacist after the patient has been asked a number of questions. The investigators found that in 40% of cases, sales assistants did not alert the pharmacist, while one in five sold it without asking any questions.
Which? magazine editor Neil Fowler said: "People are increasingly turning to pharmacies for the sort of advice they might have gone to their GP for in the past.
"With plans to expand the remit of pharmacists further, it's vital that training improves and that meaningful action is taken against those that fail to deliver, so that consumers can trust the advice they receive."
The Royal Pharmaceutical Society is to investigate the case, and has also pledged to support improvements in the industry by mystery shopping and training, Which? said.