A number of pharmacies suspected of charging ‘excessive’ and ‘unfair’ prices for hand sanitiser products during the Covid-19 pandemic are being investigated.
In a joint letter sent out to pharmacy teams yesterday, the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said they were looking into a small minority of pharmacies’ that may have been been ‘seeking to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic by charging unjustifiably high prices for essential products, including hand sanitiser, face masks and paracetamol which continue to be in very high demand.’
The CMA has said it is looking into four ‘retailers’ – that includes pharmacies – which may have ‘added a higher than usual percentage mark-up on the wholesale price it has paid [for hand sanitiser].’
‘While the numbers involved may be small, the issue has been prominent in the public eye,’ they said.
During the pandemic, the GPhC has written to a number of pharmacies who have been called out for price increases, to remind them of the ‘requirements to meet the GPhC Standards’. The body also asked some pharmacies to review the price they are charging for a particular item and to consider whether the price should be changed.
The CMA said it recognised that some high prices may be reflective of higher wholesaler prices. However, ‘they do not justify the pharmacy increasing its own percentage mark-up on the wholesale price’, the body said.
It added: ‘Pharmacies may be facing additional operational costs at this time, such as for additional cleaning and PPE. While such costs might justify a limited increase in general mark-ups, the CMA does not consider that they would justify a pharmacy disproportionately increasing its mark-ups on essential products unless the additional costs specifically relate to the sale of those products.’
Commercial and pricing concerns are not usually within the GPhC’s remit. However, in this case, the body believes ‘there are broader issues [involved] that would impact public confidence’ in the sector.
‘For example, any pharmacy or pharmacy owner found to have breached competition or consumer protection law risks facing action by the GPhC for damaging public confidence,’ it said.
In early March, a pharmacist in Leicester defended the decision to sell hand sanitiser for £10 a bottle, insisting the high pricing is ‘out of his control’ in the wake of the hysteria surrounding coronavirus.
Howitt’s Pharmacy, in Leicester, faced a backlash from its customers online after it started selling its hand sanitiser for £10 for a 500ml bottle.
Superintendent pharmacist director, Atim Patel, told The Pharmacist, the high price was due to the struggle he was facing to purchase the bottles from his wholesaler during the coronavirus outbreak.
He explained that the price was ’out of his control’ and was ‘a direct result of the market right now’. Days earlier, the Pharmacist revealed that at least four pharmaceutical wholesalers had run out of supplies of hand sanitiser indefinitely, leaving community pharmacies unable to get stocks.