Pharmacies accused of “cashing in” on the coronavirus while supplier price soars
A supplier of P2/N95 masks has been referred to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over a jump in prices to pharmacies for the products.
Anthony Tassone, president of the Victorian branch of the Pharmacy Guild of Australia, told the AJP that the Guild has been made aware of “numerous instances where there has been a substantial increase in the unit cost of masks from before the coronavirus emergency being declared compared to afterwards”.
“One example that is of particular concern is in relation to P2/N95 respirator masks (with valve) from Livingstone International Pty Ltd – which was being sold for approximately $2.50 (exc.GST) per unit on 7th January 2020, but had then increased to $38.50 (exc.GST) per unit on 8th February 2020.
“Invoices from pharmacies have been made available to substantiate this.”
The AJP has sighted two invoices for masks from this supplier to one pharmacy, with these prices clearly marked.
“This equates to a price increase of almost 1500% which is staggering,” Mr Tassone said.
“Livingstone have been contacted to seek an explanation for this substantial price increase in a relatively short period of time. I was initially advised by a representative that it was due to price increases incurred by their own suppliers – which had to be subsequently passed on to their customers.
“I requested a written statement from Livingstone to help pharmacies explain this price increase to members of the public should pharmacy team members be questioned. Despite multiple requests, there has been no such statement forthcoming and no indication whether one will.
“From here, in acting on the concerns on behalf of members a notification was made with the ACCC to seek clarification whether the conduct from Livingstone was compliant with the Australian Consumer Law and potentially be considered as unconscionable conduct.
“Livingstone has been informed of the notification and have been provided the full contents of the report made.”
In the meantime frequent critic of the pharmacy sector Dr Andrew Miller, president of the Western Australian branch of the Australian Medical Association, has taken to social media to express concern about the approach to managing COVID-19.
“Ordinary masks are a minor help and should not be bought or sold at big profits – high prices may lead people to think that they are more useful than 2 hours or so of droplet protection that they provide,” he wrote on his blog.
“Unless you also wear eye goggles and an N95 respirator mask, and clean hands frequently, and avoid touching face when mask comes off, no mask is really any help at all.”
He also took to Twitter to discuss the issue of pharmacies providing face masks.
We are hearing multiple stories of ordinary surgical masks being sold at pharmacies in WA for in excess of $10 EACH. Aside from the very limited protection they provide, can #medtwitter tell us, is this true, and if so, who is profiting? #nCoV19
— AMA (WA) President (@AMA_WAPresident) February 11, 2020
Several pharmacists responded by noting that the price to pharmacies from wholesalers has increased.
I’ve seen multiple examples of particular suppliers increasing the costs of masks items by over 1500% (you read it right) to pharmacies between 1st week of Jan+1st week of Feb.
These instances have been referred to @acccgovau of concerns of unconscionable conduct by them
— Anthony Tassone (@A_Tass1) February 12, 2020
Here are the (current) wholesale costs on surgical masks
That is roughly $18 wholesale, so of they are selling for $10 they are discounting them quite drastically…. despite the outrageousness of these prices pic.twitter.com/0gV1IXw3Jz
— Jarrod McMaugh MPS (@pharmerfour) February 12, 2020
Some Twitter users were quick to condemn the pharmacy sector…
Primary wholesaler put their price up 700%
Jumping to biased and derogatory stereotypes before checking facts….?
— Samuel Keitaanpaa (@SKeitaanpaa) February 12, 2020
Mr Tassone also noted that this “free market” approach to masks was not of benefit to consumers.
Critics of the community pharmacy model claim that consumers will be the winner in a “free market”
Well folks – this is the free market #coronavirus #nCoV2019 style higher up in the supply chain before the mask gets to the pharmacy
Supplier cost have inc > 1500% in past month pic.twitter.com/ATudYC19bT
— Anthony Tassone (@A_Tass1) February 12, 2020
The mainstream media continues to scrutinise community pharmacy, this time with the Daily Mail condemning a Priceline Pharmacy in central Sydney for selling hand sanitiser at an “inflated” price.
Reporter Jackson Barron wrote on Wednesday that, “A Priceline pharmacy is cashing in on coronavirus hysteria and selling hand sanitiser for almost double the recommended retail price”.
Exclusive pictures obtained by Daily Mail Australia show 345mL bottles of Isocol antiseptic spray being sold for $22.99 in Priceline’s Broadway Central Park store in Sydney.
The price is $11 more expensive than is advertised on Priceline’s online store, with the product being sold for $11.99.”
The Daily Mail spoke to a consumer who said that he believed the pharmacy to be “price gouging” and that staff had “tried to get rid of” him when he asked to speak to a manager about the price of the item.
The report follows a piece last week which aired on A Current Affair and which slammed TerryWhite Chemmart stores over the price of masks.
Symbion and TerryWhite Chemmart responded in a statement at the time that the banner group would investigate the claims made, but that Symbion refuted the suggestion that the wholesaler itself was responsible for the price increase.
“The Guild continues to work closely with and distribute advice and guidance provided by the Chief Medical Office and any other Department of Health agency in relation to when masks are recommended for use and actions to be taken by primary healthcare workers if they believe a patient is showing signs of the coronavirus,” Mr Tassone told the AJP.
“Community pharmacies are a trusted and essential primary healthcare service and their team members do not deserve to receive unfair scrutiny and accusations of opportunism or profiteering for the significantly higher prices of masks in some cases for factors completely beyond their control.”
In the meantime, the Federal Government has committed to providing more face masks through primary health channels including pharmacy free of charge.
At a Canberra doorstop on Wednesday, Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt told reporters that Australia’s containment processes for novel coronavirus (COVID-19), as well as the quarantine and border protection processes, are working.
“In addition, though, to bolster that, we will be providing an additional 300,000 surgical masks to the primary health networks for supporting doctors, health workers and also pharmacists, not as a sale item for pharmacists but in case there is a potential patient who reports, for the patient, for anybody associated with them and for pharmacy staff,” the Minister said.
“So we’re responding to the requests. They’ll be provided through the primary health network.”