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Pricing authority should be vigilant for signs of specials fraud, PSNC says

Practice The NHS pricing authority could help eradicate specials fraud by vetting prescriptions for unusually high prices, PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe (pictured) has argued.

The NHS pricing authority could help eradicate specials fraud by vetting prescriptions for unusually high prices, PSNC chief executive Sue Sharpe has argued.


Ms Sharpe called on the NHS Business Services Authority (NHS BSA) to identify pharmacies that were claiming excessive prices and refer them for investigation, following the Telegraph's exposé on specials fraud last Friday (June 21).


The NHS BSA told C+D this week it had nothing to add to Ms Sharpe's comments.


"Any association with fraudulent activity tarnishes pharmacy's reputation, which is particularly damaging as we seek to persuade the government to develop pharmacy's role in the NHS" Sue Sharpe, PSNC

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The Telegraph's undercover investigation accused three specials manufacturers of offering pharmacists financial incentives to purchase drugs.


Although contractors faced "very challenging times", Ms Sharpe stressed that pharmacists should reject the offers. "Any association with fraudulent activity tarnishes pharmacy's reputation, which is particularly damaging as we seek to persuade the government to develop pharmacy's role in the NHS," she said.

Ms Sharpe maintained that England's specials tariff, introduced in 2011, remained a viable way of keeping prices down across much of the market. "We believe the existing reimbursement system.... is, when used appropriately, fair to contractors and meets the needs of the NHS," she argued.


Accountancy firm Silver Levene partner Umesh Modi, who reported receiving calls from contractors on the subject in March, said he doubted the fraud was on a large scale. He questioned the Telegraph's claims that colluding pharmacists could have cost the NHS millions of pounds.


Mr Modi told C+D that, although he had heard reports of fraudulent offers from manufacturers, many contractors had been concerned about the practice. "At the end of the day, pharmacists are professional individuals and would know this doesn't sound right," he said. "I would suspect there might be a few bad apples but I don't think they would be the majority, so I'm not convinced the loss is of that magnitude."


The Telegraph investigation gave no evidence of pharmacists agreeing to the deals.


The allegations split C+D readers commenting on the website, who debated whether funding constraints had fuelled fraudulent specials claims. A poll of 57 C+D readers found 49 per cent thought financial pressures were to blame, while 51 per cent said it was a poor excuse for fraud.


Both the General Pharmaceutical Council and NHS Protect have pledged to investigate the allegations. Pharmacists found guilty of committing fraud are likely to be struck off the register and could face a jail sentence, Noel Wardle, partner at law firm Charles Russell, told C+D in March.


Specials manufacturers Pharmarama and Temag denied the Telegraph's accusations that they provided false invoices for drug purchases. Quantum Pharmaceutical was accused of offering cashback on specials purchases, but told C+D that the opinions and comments made by its employee, as reported in the Telegraph story, did not conform to the company's policies or standards and that the employee had been suspended.


What do you think would be the best method to stamp out specials fraud?

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3 Comments

Andrew Martin, Primary care pharmacist

i thought Sue S was sensible and would be realistic enough to know that the NHSBSA just couldn't do this as they wouldn't be able to make that judgement. Pharmacists just need to avoid the temptation to defraud the NHS.

Medicine Master, Primary care pharmacist

Why can't all specials be immediately put into the Drug Tariff which would save everybody thousands of pounds in loset money and time and solve the issue once and for all

Ketan Chandi, Superintendent Pharmacist

Would love to see the Telegraph do an investigation on the NHS BSA inaccuracies and how they regularly underpay Pharmacies by thousands.....

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