According to an investigation by The Times – published on Friday (May 25) – between 2013 and 2017 Boots ordered cocaine mouthwash – used to treat patients with severe sores caused by chemotherapy – “at least five times” from Alliance Healthcare, charging between £1,843 and £3,220 on each occasion.
According to The Times, in 2013 Boots charged the NHS £3,219 for three 200ml bottles, then £3,220 for the same amount on another occasion. Last year, it charged £1,843 for 800ml, then £1,989 for 800ml and £6,374 for 2.6 litres.
Three 200ml bottles had been bought by other pharmacies for as little as £93.42, The Times alleged.
A spokesperson for parent company Walgreens Boots Alliance told C+D this morning (May 29) that it “firmly rejects accusations of overcharging the NHS” and claimed Boots and Alliance Healthcare “fully comply with all applicable legal requirements” in the UK (see their full response below).
Responding to the allegations in The Times, pharmacy minister Steve Brine said: “The British public will take an extremely dim view of any company found to be exploiting our NHS and patients, and we have asked the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to consider investigating as a priority.”
The government has recently changed the law “to enable us to place pharmacies and manufacturers under much stronger scrutiny”, Mr Brine added.
“Where there is evidence of collusion between pharmacies and suppliers, swift action will be taken to claw back funds and penalise offenders.”
Watchdog the CMA confirmed to C+D that it had received a complaint regarding the claims and is “considering it”.
Walgreens “welcomes” further discussions
“We would welcome any further conversations with relevant authorities and stakeholders on this matter, including with the CMA,” it added.
The price of specials reflect the “high overheads” that go into making these “bespoke, unlicensed prescription items”, which are “ordered at short notice”, Walgreens Boots Alliance added.
“Boots UK fulfils prescriptions for specials by ordering and dispensing them to patients as required and specifically detailed on the prescriptions. The decision to request a specials prescription rests with medical professionals, like GPs and hospital consultants,” it said.