Saturday 21 October 2017

Customers pay three times as much for same medicine in different pharmacies

Eilish O'Regan Health Correspondent

Patients are being urged to "shop around" after a new survey shows customers can pay up to three times as much for the same medicine in different pharmacies.

A survey of 39 common prescription medicines in 45 pharmacies has revealed wide variation in prices as some chemist shops impose big mark-ups and dispensing fees.

In once instance, there was a three-fold difference in the price of a common stomach ulcer medicine, which cost €16.62 in one Dublin outlet but was priced at €49.69 in Waterford.

The survey was carried out by the National Consumer Agency (NCA) in February after the drug companies lowered the factory price of a range of drugs, which should in turn be passed on to customers.

The survey revealed:

• The largest percentage variation in price for an individual product within a local area was for Losec Mups 20 Mg (28), commonly used to treat stomach ulcers. The difference in price in Waterford was found to be 122pc, with prices ranging from €22.43 to €49.69.

• The second highest percentage price gap in an area was for the product Zoton Fastab Tabs 30 Mg (28), which treats stomach complaints. The survey found prices ranged from €19.96 to €42.33, a difference of 112pc, in Dublin.

In Galway, a private patient could end up paying 30pc more depending on where they bought the drug, while the difference in Cork and Limerick averaged 29pc, and it was 27pc in Waterford.

A pharmacist buys the Losec medicine at €15.48 since January, but is entitled to add a mark-up and a dispensing fee before selling it to the customer.

Fees

Fergal O'Leary, director of research at the NCA, said the dispensing fees charged by pharmacists varied from €3 to €7.

In a small number of instances, pharmacies do not apply a dispensing fee on certain products while others vary it depending on the medicine. Others have a standard fee.

He said while it was not possible for pharmacies to display the price of all drugs, they should put up their dispensing fees to let customers know how much they would be charging.

The Irish Pharmacy Union, which represents pharmacists, claimed that the survey findings showed that the sector was "extremely competitive".

"It is up to each individual pharmacist to determine what they charge private patients for their medicines," said a spokesman.

Karen O'Leary, head of the NCA, said: "Nationally, the percentage differences in prices of individual prescription medicines ranged from 37pc to 199pc. The average percentage difference across all products nationally was 56pc.

"Many private customers may not be aware of these price differentials. We would urge consumers, especially those on long-term medication and who do not meet the criteria for the various state-funded drug schemes, to compare the costs of prescription medicines in their local area before choosing a pharmacy."

She added: "We believe that more needs to be done to help customers compare the costs of prescription medicines and avail of price differentials.

"We have written to the pharmacy regulator, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland, as we want to work with them to improve consumer access to price information in the sector.

"We are calling for the inclusion of a specific reference to the display of dispensing fee policies by pharmacists at their premises in the PSI Code of Conduct or other relevant guidelines," she added.

Irish Independent

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