Nearly two thirds of independent community pharmacy contractors say their mainline wholesalers have an unfair system of pricing for surcharges, a new survey has revealed.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) ran a month-long research in November after seeing continuing complaints from its independent community pharmacy members about aspects of medicines supply.

The results of the ‘snapshot’ survey released on Friday (Dec 4) showed that nearly seven in 10 respondents felt their mainline wholesalers apply surcharges that are not clearly justifiable and proportionate.

Only one in 10 believed that quotas are allocated equitably, either sometimes or always, while most reported that the number of products on quota has increased over the last six months.

Some respondents stated that they felt national pharmacy chains do not have the same problems as independent pharmacies and are given preferential treatment when it comes to obtaining stock.

In a press release, the NPA said: “A total of 78 per cent respondents said that they have issues with Alliance Healthcare surcharges, more than twice the number for AAH and Phoenix combined. This in part reflects the respective market positions of these three wholesalers.”

Neil Bhayani, NPA public affairs manager, commented: “The size of the survey is small, but clear themes did appear, which we want to explore further with pharmaceutical wholesalers. The majority of the complaints we get are about surcharges. We will be asking wholesalers to listen to their independent customers and to review their policies on surcharges.”

This is the third Wholesaler Service Standards survey run by the NPA. The survey in 2018/2019 asked members to score their wholesalers according to a set of markers, including markers for efficiency, customer service and fairness.

Responding to the result of the survey, an Alliance Healthcare spokesperson said: “As a leading pharmaceutical wholesaler, we operate a nationwide, twice-daily delivery service. To help enable us to do this we apply a low spend surcharge as per our terms and conditions.

“We work hard to ensure customers do not incur a surcharge and have a dedicated team in place that can help customers meet their qualifying spend threshold. Details of all surcharges are also available on our website, with helpful information for customers to avoid a surcharge.

“Alliance Healthcare works closely with manufacturers to ensure maximum supply of product to UK patients. In times where demand exceeds supply we may have to apply quotas to give an opportunity to all pharmacies to access stock.”

The latest NPA survey, a smaller, snapshot survey which had 118 independent pharmacies participating, was aimed at finding out more about supply issues in the context of Covid-19.

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