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Pharmacy owners report rise in phone bills as supply issues intensify

Stock shortages, long hold times, and premium numbers are being blamed for rising phone bills
Stock shortages, long hold times, and premium numbers are being blamed for rising phone bills

Pharmacy phone bills are rising as contractors spend “inordinate” amounts of time calling wholesalers to resolve medicine supply issues, C+D has learned.

Andy Weinronk, pharmacist and director of four pharmacies in north-west England, said that on one branch's monthly bill he found that instead of “1 pence per [local] call”, calls to wholesalers had cost him “£1 a call – so it's costing 100 times as much”.

On the same bill, “£13 out of the £21 of call charges” had been the result of “13 calls to two wholesalers”, Mr Weinronk said last week (December 8).

“If you multiply that over all of my pharmacies, you’re talking about £600 to £700 a year, which is money I can’t afford at the minute,” he said.

Quota system is a “bit of a joke”

Mr Weinronk argued that wholesalers are “making money on the back of the quota systems they’ve got in place”.

These systems have “become a bit of a joke”, as pharmacists have to “beg for stock”, he claimed.

“The same thing happens every month from about the 20th,” he stressed. “We have to physically phone them up and…prove that we've got prescriptions.”

Citing this quarter’s phone bills, he said it was “the inordinate length of time” spent on hold or “waiting for somebody to get the right person to increase our quota [that] was causing these bills to mount up”.

Wholesalers use premium numbers

Shilan Shah, co-owner of Mountford Pharmacy in Barnet, London, described the premium numbers used by some wholesalers as “bank robbery”, as he has waited up to half an hour to speak to someone.

Naming Alliance Healthcare as “huge culprits”, Mr Shah pointed out the wholesaler is the sole distributor of “so many pharmaceutical products”. You can read Alliance's response below.

Mr Shah has noticed his phone bill rise in the “region of 20%” in “the last four to six months”, he told C+D.

“It might seem small, but it is adding to the big pool of things that have gone up,” Mr Shah said. “One month could be a rise of 20-40% on your phone bill.”

Michael Lennox, chief executive of Somerset local pharmaceutical committee, told C+D: “We’re getting feedback that people are spending their life on the phone, trying to resolve supply issues.”

"That has to have a bearing on their phone bills," he added.

Alliance Healthcare responds

Alliance Healthcare told C+D yesterday (December 15) that it takes “all customer feedback very seriously” and will “respond proactively to ensure we are meeting the needs of pharmacists, and their patients”.

The wholesaler will implement standard rate customer service numbers from January 2018, it added.

“This announcement is part of a wider, intensive programme of activity within our business to further drive improvements and new innovations, always putting our customers first.”

Have you noticed an increase in your pharmacy's monthly phone bill?

Leon The Apothecary, Student

To be honest, I rarely call Alliance or AAH - use their websites. What would take 10 minutes on a phone takes 10 seconds on a computer.

Mr CAUSTIC, Community pharmacist

its a disgrace that when the wholesaler screws up one has to pay a premium rate to sort the problem out.

at least aah did the decent thing and changed their customer service lines to normal charging lines earlier in the year. Our beloved PSNC has of course taken these phone charges into account when negotiating our remuneration package. 







Z ZZzzzz, Information Technology

Unfortunately PSNC's averaging contract payment system means that any excess charge recorded over a quarterly period for things like this get paid back to every contractor the next quarter by adjustments to fees etc whether or not they've had the excess telephone charges. Completely stupid, but what do you expect from our so-called "negotiators".

Stephen Walsh, Community pharmacist

Putting their customers first? Hate to see what it'd be like if they didn't.

PoPeYe- Popeys Car Wash, Community pharmacist

Sole distributor arrangements should be banned, no ifs or buts. 

Uma Patel, Community pharmacist

In Oct we made 11 calls to Alliance Healthcare Customer Service. Total time was over 2 hours at a cost of £13.72

This is an abuse of a monopoly

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