The parent company of high street health and beauty retailer Boots has been accused of charging the NHS as much as £1579 for medications sold elsewhere for £1.73.
According to The Times, a supplier then owned by Walgreen Boots Alliance, BCM Specials, charged extortionate amounts to the health service for 500ml tubs of skin cream in 2016.
A swathe of similar cases has been revealed whereby the NHS has been charged excessive prices for drugs dubbed “specials” which are often available elsewhere for a fraction of the price.
Specials are custom-made treatments for patients requiring non-standard medications, and their prices are unregulated, allowing the supplier to dictate their price.
This leads to the NHS paying varying prices for the same products from different suppliers.
In October 2016, it allegedly paid £45.47 for preservative-free eye drops to Unichem, another wholesaler owned by Boots.
A larger quantity of the same product was reportedly bought for £1 at a different time, though Boots disputed this figure.
These are reportedly a drop in the ocean and the exploitation of the loophole in price regulation is understood to be rife.
Walgreen Boots Alliance has denied the allegations, stating that it complied with all regulations.
A spokeswoman told The Times: “Specials are unique items ordered at short notice. They are made by highly trained technicians in dedicated laboratories in the UK that source ingredients, produce and quality-check often on the same day, and as a single item.
“This process incurs high overheads, reflected in the final cost, which is set in line with the sector to reflect the bespoke nature of the products.”
The British Association of Dermatologists chairwoman Deirdre Buckley said: “For many dermatology specials the ingredients aren’t expensive and it’s inexplicable why they cost so much
“It’s not right. We have a duty to conserve the resources of the taxpayer so that the money is used to actually care for patients.”
The Department of Health and Social Care said that from April the law will be changed to put suppliers and pharmacies under greater scrutiny.