WHSmith has been found overcharging vulnerable patients and staff with inflated prices for essential everyday items in their hospital outlets.
The British retailer has 1300 stores in the UK and internationally, including 128 hospitals. It is undoubtedly a huge high street name, but in hospitals across the UK it has been taking advantage of a “captive audience”, claims Katherine Murphy, Chief Executive of the Patients Association.
She claims that the move to specifically increase prices in hospitals, where customers have much less choice is “just morally wrong” and added that the widespread incidents could be investigated at the select committee.
The WHSmith outlet at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, charges £1.89 for a bottle of water that can be purchased for just £1 at the nearby Leeds store. Meanwhile the outlet at St Thomas’ Hospital, Westminster, sells a 750ml bottle of Evian for £1.69, compared to just £1.39 at the WHSmith Hammersmith store.
“WHSmith Is saying it is to do with costs, which doesn’t wash with me,” said Ms Sherriff, the Member of Parliament for Dewsbery. “They have stores on elite high streets and I’m sure hospitals don’t exceed costs there.”
BBC Radio Leeds did its own investigation into prices at the Wakefield and Pontefract hospital branches compared to the outlet near Leeds’s Trinity Shopping Centre. An A4 retail pad was found to cost 60% more in both hospitals, whilst sandwiches cost an increased 15%.
A spokesperson for WHSmith has insisted that hospitals present a more complex and expensive environment in which to run an outlet.
“Locations such as hospitals are more complex environments to operate in, with certain operational costs being significantly higher than on the high street, for example longer opening hours, more complicated delivery arrangements and often higher occupational costs.”
However Iain Brodie, for Mid Yorkshire Hospitals NHS Trust, said pricing policy was a commercial decision by WH Smith.
“The trust has a number of free-of-charge water dispensers in our public restaurants and cafes for visitors, staff and outpatients”, he added.