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Media and Political Bulletin – 30 June 2020

Media and Political Bulletin

30 June 2020

Media Summary

Watchdog investigating pharmacies over handgel prices

P3 Pharmacy, Pharmacy Network News, 29 June 2020

P3 Pharmacy reports that the UK’s consumer watchdog has teamed up with the General Pharmaceutical Council to warn pharmacies of the potential consequences of charging “unjustifiably high prices” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a joint letter issued this morning, the Competition and Markets Authority and GPhC criticise the actions of a “small minority of pharmacies” suspected of “seeking to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic by charging unjustifiably high prices for essential products, including hand sanitiser, face masks and paracetamol”.

Pricing concerns are widely understood to fall outside the GPhC’s remit. However, it said it was prepared to take action if it judges that there are “broader issues that would impact on public confidence”.

Parliamentary Coverage

Scottish Parliament Health and Sport Committee’s inquiry into the Supply and Demand for Medicines, 30 June 2020

Martin Sawer, Executive Director of the HDA, provided oral evidence to this inquiry. He said the decision to leave the EU had caused the NHS to become better at analysing shortages and horizon scanning, stating there was a “much better understanding of how much stock is around”.

Mr Sawer outlined steps taken by wholesalers to improve efficiency within the system, such as updated communication systems to provide better intelligence to pharmacists as to when they may expect stock to be available.

Both Warwick Smith of the BGMA and Martin Sawer noted ongoing European wide strategic discussions on resilience in the supply chain and the geographical centralisation of production of certain medicines and chemicals.

The full report can be viewed here.

House of Commons – Written Answer, 29 June 2020

Alex Norris (Nottingham North): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, whether the Government plans to increase the level of long-term funding allocated to community pharmacies in response to the covid-19 outbreak.

Jo Churchill: The Department of Health and Social Care has indicated that it will not be possible to answer this question within the usual time period. An answer is being prepared and will be provided as soon as it is available.

House of Commons – Written Question, 24 June 2020

Mr Richard Holden (North West Durham): To ask the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, what steps he is taking to stop wholesalers artificially inflating prices to pharmacies during the covid-19 outbreak.

Jo Churchill: The costs of branded medicines are controlled by the 2019 Voluntary Scheme for Branded Medicines Pricing and Access and the statutory scheme for branded medicines.

For unbranded generic medicines the Department relies on competition to keep prices down. This has led to some of the lowest prices in Europe and allows prices to react to the market. In an international market this ensures that when demand is high and supply is low, prices in the United Kingdom can increase to help secure the availability of medicines for UK patients.

Companies should not capitalise on the current COVID-19 situation by charging unjustifiably high prices for drugs and other supplies. Concerns about pricing abuse are a matter for the Competition and Markets Authority.

Full Coverage

Watchdog investigating pharmacies over handgel prices

P3 Pharmacy, Pharmacy Network News, 29 June 2020

The UK’s consumer watchdog has teamed up with the General Pharmaceutical Council to warn pharmacies of the potential consequences of charging “unjustifiably high prices” during the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a joint letter issued this morning, the Competition and Markets Authority and GPhC criticise the actions of a “small minority of pharmacies” suspected of “seeking to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic by charging unjustifiably high prices for essential products, including hand sanitiser, face masks and paracetamol”.

The CMA said it had recently launched investigations into four retailers, including pharmacies, suspected of charging “excessive and unfair prices” for hand sanitiser. If the watchdog reaches a finding that competition law has been breached this could lead to financial penalties being imposed.

The CMA said it recognised that pharmacies may be paying higher prices to wholesalers, but while these costs may be expected to influence retail prices “they do not justify the pharmacy increasing its own percentage mark-up on the wholesale price”.

Similarly, additional costs such as PPE and hygiene measures “might justify a limited increase in general mark-ups” during the crisis but do not warrant a disproportionate increase in the prices charged for essential items, said the CMA.

GPhC ‘writing to a number of pharmacies’

The GPhC said that during the pandemic it has “written to a number of registered pharmacies to remind them about the requirements to meet our standards in the context of concerns we’ve received about price increases”.

“In some cases we have asked the pharmacy to review the price they are charging for a particular item and consider whether this price should be changed, as well as inviting them to tell us about any actions they are planning to take.”

Pricing concerns are widely understood to fall outside the GPhC’s remit. However, it said it was prepared to take action if it judges that there are “broader issues that would impact on public confidence”.

“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.”

The GPhC has seen a marked increase in complaints from the public during the pandemic, driven in part by a rise in concerns around the prices some pharmacies have charged.

Media and Political Bulletin – 30 June 2020

From Factory to Pharmacy

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