High EC price to discourage ‘inappropriate use’

Boots shopfront

British women are condemning Boots UK’s decision not to follow competitors in lowering the price of emergency contraception

The Superdrug and Tesco chains recently reduced the price of progestogen-based emergency contraception to £13.50 (AUD$22.20) after the British Pregnancy Advisory Service wrote to them, asking them to review their pricing.

BPAS says that progestogen-based emergency contraception can cost up to five times more in the UK than elsewhere in Europe.

But Boots has refused to follow suit, reportedly claiming the price is set high to discourage “inappropriate use”.

Boots chief pharmacist said in a letter to BPAS that, “In our experience the subject of emergency hormonal contraception polarises public opinion and we receive frequent contact from individuals who voice their disapproval of the fact that the company chooses to provide this service.

“We would not want to be accused of incentivising inappropriate use, and provoking complaints, by significantly reducing the price of this product.”

BPAS has now joined with the Women’s Equality Party to call on Boots to follow Superdrug and Tesco’s example.

“Women should be able to access emergency contraception without being ripped off,” said Sophie Walker, leader of the Women’s Equality Party.

“We know that emergency contraception can be difficult to access for free on the NHS, with appointments at GP surgeries or family planning clinics hard to obtain.

“Many women will need to buy these pills over the counter, and it is irresponsible and exploitative for retailers to charge over the odds for them. 

“This lack of consistency in the provision of women’s contraception threatens to undermine our reproductive rights and Boots’ approach to this concern is indicative of a society that prioritises profit over women’s health and wellbeing.”

Clare Murphy, Director of External Affairs at the British Pregnancy Advisory Service called the high price of EC at Boots a “hugely sexist surcharge”.

Women and men have taken to social media to protest Boots’ stance.


Several consumers targeted Boots’ Facebook page, commenting on a recent promotional post for fragrance.

“Stop price gouging on the morning after pill—and quit with the right wing moralising while you’re at it,” wrote Mark Stevens.

“Please don’t try to use moral judgements to hide the fact that you’re ripping off and making it harder for women who want to take responsibility for their own contraception,” wrote Lorna Greenwood.

Concern was also expressed about the attitude of some pharmacists to EC.

According to the Guardian, around 4% of British women of reproductive age use emergency contraception in any given year.

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  1. Jarrod McMaugh

    The only reason to charge significantly more than a competitor for any product should be the overheads involved in that supply, whether it be higher wholesale cost, or higher wages paid for the workforce of that business (assuming that this is invested into a service level that is valued by patients).

    It would seem inconceivable that Boots is unable to purchase the product at a price that is similar to those of it’s competitors, given their market share.

    As for inappropriate use – whether this is the case or not, price signalling is not the method to address this (if it is in fact “inappropriate”). The method of addressing this is through patient counselling to ensure correct use.

    Inappropriate use of this product, by the way, would be taking it at the wrong time, taking it when there are clear contraindications, or consuming it in an inappropriate manner (ie not swallowing it). Using it as a contraceptive – regardless of frequency – doesn’t constitute inappropriate use.

    • Margaret Topp

      I agree with your points Jarrod.Also why should those who would be least likely to afford an unwanted pregnancy be penalised by refusing to provide a fair market price? Hopefully there is sufficient competition in this marketplace to ensure an alternative supplier.

    • Ronky

      Read the product info Jarrod – ” It should be used only as an emergency measure. Women who present for repeated courses of emergency contraception should be advised to consider long-term methods of contraception.” (which costs the patient essentially zero in the UK).
      The same person requesting the same thing every Monday morning is not an “emergency”.

      • Jarrod McMaugh

        Very familiar with the product insert Peter, since i work “at the coalface” every day.

        It’s easy enough to claim that I’m expressing horror or taking a moral high ground, but I’m not; I’m pointing out how its inappropriate, and a stupid business decision as well.

        With regards to “emergency” – if a person continues to crash their car every week or set their house on fire, should the paramedics or fire department refuse to come after a certain number of times since there seems to be a pattern, or is each of these instances still “an emergency” that requires the appropriate intervention at the time, regardless of whether prevention would have been effective? Or should we refer to the Church’s authoritative documents for the right path to take here?

        • Ronky

          Perhaps you are such a brilliant charismatic pharmacist that your customers invariably follow your advice to the letter just because you told them so. We plodders who constitute the rest of the profession know that we occasionally need where appropriate the judicious use of aids such as price-signalling (and the good old “sorry we’re out of stock” – sadly all too true these days!) to help deter inappropriate use of various products.
          Yes the firemen always come when called, but they don’t just put the fire out and say “Toodle-oo, see you next week!” Their job is just as much if not more about prevention. And the pharmacy profession is the same, or should be. I don’t think your church can help you much here, it’s something you (or at least the rest of us) have to use our own loaf to work out the most professionally appropriate approach in each individual situation.
          If you’re referring to those pharmacists who have a conscientious objection to supplying the MAP, that’s a totally different question. If that’s the reason for non-supply, they should be upfront about it in my opinion. Otherwise as I alluded, those who purport to take the moral high ground leave themselves open to the appearance of hypocrisy.

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