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GPhC warns online pharmacies: Don't 'unjustifiably' inflate HRT prices

Online pharmacies should “make sure” they do not increase the prices of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) products “in a way that is unjustifiable”, General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) CEO Duncan Rudkin has told C+D. 

The regulator recognises that women trying to obtain HRT medicines via private prescriptions might end up paying more than the NHS prescription charge “due to the costs involved in providing this service”, Mr Rudkin told C+D today (May 4).

However, the GPhC urged online pharmacies to be reasonable if they choose to raise the price of HRT products.

“We know that pharmacy teams across Great Britain are working very hard to try and get their patients the medicines they need,” he added.


Read more: MP to 'name and shame' online pharmacies over HRT drug prices


The GPhC’s comments follow Labour MP Carolyn Harris’s claim that some online pharmacies are “profiteering” off current HRT product shortages by selling treatments for up to “three times as much as they’re worth”.

Unable to access the products through NHS prescriptions, many have tried to source HRT medicine online and encountered hefty price tags, the MP said.



CMA has a part to play


The GPhC noted that the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) “also has a role to play” in ensuring businesses do not inflate HRT prices “as it works to ensure consumers get a good deal when buying goods and services, and that businesses operate within the law”.


Read more: Boots to cover HRT prescription costs for pharmacy team members


C+D has approached the CMA for comment.

The GPhC reminded online pharmacies to refer and adhere to its guidance for providing services at a distance, to ensure they are being provided safely and effectively.

In 2020, the GPhC and the CMA issued a joint warning to pharmacies after receiving reports that a “small minority” were trying to benefit from the COVID-19 pandemic by charging “unjustifiably high prices” for products including face masks, hand sanitiser, and paracetamol.


Read more: Legal view: How has the CMA cracked down on profiteering pharmacies?


GPhC welcomes HRT task force


The regulator also welcomed the implementation of a new government HRT task force in light of “shortages […] negatively affecting the health and wellbeing of women who are unable to access the medicines they have been prescribed”.


Read more: Pharmacists granted power to limit supply of 3 ‘high demand’ HRT products


Madelaine McTernan, who directs the government's vaccine task force, will also spearhead the HRT supply task force to address the shortages and “identify ways to support the HRT supply chain”, the Department of Health and Social Care wrote in a statement last week (April 29).

Ms McTernan is due to meet with health secretary Sajid Javid and HRT manufacturers tomorrow to discuss supply.

On Friday, serious shortage protocols were issued for three “high demand” HRT products, allowing pharmacists to supply the affected medicines according to the protocol rather than the written prescription, without having to seek permission from the prescriber.


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