The government is to crack down on dispensaries and drug stores that illegally sell controlled drugs over the counter. People will have a clear idea of just where the products are available as offending shops will, for the first time, be named and shamed on a website. Under measures to enhance drug safety, shops that sell pharmaceutical products will be subject to more stringent controls. They may lose their licence with just one conviction for a drug-related offence, instead of the current criteria of two convictions in three years. Lawmakers urged the Department of Health to take action over unscrupulous sales of drugs such as cough syrups and antibiotics after an Audit Commission report criticised its lax supervision of the industry. Last October, a commission's value-for-money investigation revealed the department's shortcomings in the control of Western medicines. The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee was astonished at some of the findings and urged the department to take action. The report said the department had allowed unregistered medicine imported for re-export to be sold in the city. Some pharmacies had reopened under a different name after they were convicted and removed from a list of authorised sellers of poisons. The Pharmacy and Poisons Board, the watchdog responsible for licensing and regulatory control of drug sellers, set up a working group two months ago to draw up plans for improvement. The board is chaired by Department of Health director Dr Lam Ping-yan. Assistant director Dr Heston Kwong Kwok-wai said the board decided to create a website by early next year to name and shame pharmacies and drug stores guilty of malpractice or with criminal convictions. This may cover offences such as selling controlled drugs like cough syrup, antibiotics and sleeping pills without supervision by a pharmacist. There are 500 pharmacies or dispensaries in the city, as well as 3,400 'medicine companies' or drug stores. Dispensaries are authorised to sell highly controlled drugs such as psychotropic drugs, antibiotics, steroids and cough syrup under the supervision of a pharmacist. Drug stores can sell a limited range of medicine such as drugs for common flu. No pharmacist's supervision is required for these drugs. Kwong said at present the board can refuse an application for a renewal of licence if a retailer has been convicted of two or more offences within the last three years. 'The working group is tightening up the criteria,' he said. 'In future, a pharmacy or drug store will be refused a licence renewal even if it has one conviction in two years, or even one conviction in one year.' However, a final decision on the criteria has yet to be made. The board will also tighten up the qualifications for pharmacies or drug store operators. At present, the board only checks a person in charge of a store for any criminal convictions. 'In future, if the applicant is a company, all company directors and key personnel, including pharmacists and senior staff, will be screened,' Kwong said. This step aims to plug a loophole where some suspended store owners can easily open another store under a different business name. The new measures will also be in line with recommendations by a government committee, set up last year after a spate of drug incidents to address drug safety. Sandra Lee Suk-yee, permanent secretary for food and health, said in January that over-the-counter sales of prescription drugs put patients at risk and the government was determined to 'plug the loophole'. It is easy for many customers to buy controlled drugs, such as antibiotics and steroids, at some pharmacies or drug stores without a doctor's prescription as required by law. The review committee made 75 recommendations, including requiring pharmacists to be present as long as a pharmacy is open, instead of the current two-thirds of business hours. All shops selling drugs would be required to get a licence, including convenience stores. The Department of Health plans to table an amendment covering pharmacists' working hours in the coming legislative year.