Any pharmacy or pharmacy owner found to have breached competition or consumer protection law risks facing action for damaging public confidence, the pharmacy regulator has warned.

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) have written a joint letter to superintendent pharmacists and pharmacy contractors asking them to ensure they do not damage public confidence.

The letter said that “a small minority of pharmacies are seeking to benefit from the coronavirus pandemic by charging unjustifiably high prices for essential products – including hand sanitiser, face masks and paracetamol – which continue to be in very high demand.”

“Whilst the numbers involved may be small, the issue has been prominent in the public eye,” the letter added.

The pharmacy regulator said it was engaging with the CMA to ensure that the two bodies could use their “respective roles and powers in a complementary and proportionate way” while dealing with complaints about extortionate pricing.

The GPhC clarified that while it usually doesn’t take action on matters that are purely commercial in nature and have no medicinal or practice-related element, this was a broader issue that would impact on public confidence.

As the country’s lead competition and consumer authority, the CMA said it was concerned about any price charged by a pharmacy for an essential product that is higher than the ‘normal’ price as a result of percentage mark-up on the wholesale price it has paid.

It had recently announced the launch of an investigation against four convenience stores and pharmacies over suspected excessive and unfair pricing of hand sanitiser products during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The letter stated that consequences of the CMA reaching a final finding that competition law has been infringed are potentially significant and include the possibility of financial penalties.

Pharmacies experiencing large price rises or other unfair practices from their suppliers have been asked to report this to the CMA by using its online complaints form.

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