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‘Middlemen’ drug distributors ‘driving up prices’ says Labour MP

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‘Middlemen’ drug distributors ‘driving up prices’ says Labour MP

“Middlemen” distributors are “sometimes involved in driving up the prices” of medicines, Labour MP Taiwo Owatemi has claimed.

Ms Owatemi, who as well as representing Coventry North West heads up the all-party parliamentary group (APPG) on pharmacy and is herself a practising pharmacist, made her remarks yesterday in a Commons debate yesterday (September 14) on the health of the community pharmacy sector.

She said business owners had raised with her the “massive issue” of medicines supply and the uncertainty it creates for their margins, adding: “There are issues around medicine distribution in this country, and there are middlemen supply chain distributors who keep hold of medicines and who are sometimes involved in driving up the prices.”

Former pharmacy minister Steve Brine said the supply chain is “in need of serious love from ministers,” explaining: “Pharmacies often have no idea of the prices being charged by wholesalers for some key generics, so they have no idea what is short – while pricing of products is often much higher compared with other European countries.”

The debate also heard from Labour MP for Knowsley George Howarth, who said independents had told him they are “unable to negotiate lower purchasing rates as they cannot buy in bulk in the way that larger-scale pharmacy companies can”.

Ms Owatemi also referred to what she described as the Government’s sluggish progress on generic medicines policy since Brexit, claiming that while the EU has invested “about £20bn” in generics manufacturing since 2016 “so  far, the UK, according to figures I have seen recently, has invested nothing”.

The “competitive disadvantage” this creates for UK companies means they are less incentivised to produce drugs for the internal market, she said.

The debate was brought by Conservative MP for Waveney Peter Aldous, who called on ministers to “address the enormous pressures that community pharmacists currently face” and said recruitment issues should be tackled, such as the impact of the recruitment of pharmacists to general practice.

Mr Aldous warned that the sector “could cease to exist in large swathes of the country” and called on the Government to prevent a repeat of the “nightmare” situation in NHS dentistry.

He sad independents “often work ridiculously long hours for no reward,” while multiples “use retail sales to subsidise the pharmacy side of their operations,” and welcomed the coming minor ailments service in England but said that in the context of funding cuts “there is an element of robbing Peter to pay Paul”.

George Howarth described the situation as a “funding black hole” that had created an annual shortfall of at least £67,000 per pharmacy.

In his response, pharmacy minister Neil O’Brien said that with the current five-year contract coming to an end “we will need to consider what comes next for pharmacy,” adding that a forthcoming NHS England economic study “will feed into any future funding decisions”.

He said the Government is “monitoring the market very closely” as business closures mount, particularly branches of large multiples.

On recruitment concerns, Mr O’Brien said there has been a “huge” 82 per cent increase in pharmacist numbers since 2010 (from 28,984 to 52,780) but agreed that “there is more demand than ever for pharmacy professionals”.

He agreed with Ms Owatemi’s request that he meet with the pharmacy APPG in the near future.

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