According to contractors, it is very difficult for them to reach the wholesaler's £5,000 per month mininum spend threshold, especially if they use multiple wholesalers. This means they often fall foul of the surcharge, they say.
C+D understands that Alliance is not the only wholesaler to impose a low-spend surcharge, and has approached other major wholesalers about their policies.
One London-based pharmacy contractor, who wished to remain anonymous, told C+D on Tuesday (August 11) that Alliance “seriously restricts” their purchasing ability by setting restrictions, or quotas, on the number of products a pharmacy can order.
“Every single month they hit us with the surcharge, and then this is across four pharmacies, so each month we have to pay them £1,400,” they said.
A spokesperson for Alliance told C+D on Tuesday (August 11) that the company imposes its surcharge to enable it to operate a “a nationwide, twice-daily delivery service”.
Another anonymous contractor, also based in London, voiced similar concerns, citing stock shortages as another issue.
They said that reaching the £5,000 minimum spend was difficult, as their weekly order from Alliance was around £700.
An Alliance spokesperson said: “Should a product be unavailable at the time of the order, we have a dedicated team in place that can help customers meet their qualifying spend threshold.
“Alliance Healthcare works closely with manufacturers to ensure maximum supply of product to UK patients. In times where demand exceeds supply, we may have to apply quotas to give an opportunity to all pharmacies to access stock,” they added.
“Had to buy higher value items”
A pharmacy technician based in Scotland also told C+D of issues they had with ordering stock from Alliance when working in an independent pharmacy.
“There were a number of times the pharmacy owner had to pay the surcharge. To stop this from happening, they would make sure to put higher value products through Alliance so as not to incur the charge, even if the product was cheaper to source elsewhere,” the technician, who wishes to remain anonymous, claimed. They said the main reason for this was issues with stock.
Alliance asked that contractors who have a complaint contact the wholesaler directly, "as we handle these on an individual basis and take account of any mitigating circumstances."
Difficult to reach
Nathan Wiltshire, group chief executive of the Cambrian Alliance Group, told C+D on Tuesday that reaching the £5,000 minimum spend imposed by wholesalers can be a “real challenge”.
This because the “way that contractors now buy [items] has changed” and pharmacies use multiple suppliers, he added.
“This issue is tied up in the broader question of price transparency and how easy wholesalers make it to understand charging,” Mr Wiltshire said.
He described the process as “time consuming and complex” for contractors.