The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) is investigating the price of antibiotics after prices dramatically rose in the wake of a new bout of Strep A cases.
Drug companies have been accused of increasing prices as some pharmacists say they are being charged up to £19 for a box of drugs that would normally cost just a few pounds. Pharmacies said they are losing thousands of pounds a week as they can only claim back a fraction of what drugs truly cost from the NHS.
On Monday (12 December), Reena Barai from the National Pharmacy Association said the medicines supply chain was “broken”. She said the price of some antibiotics has jumped from £2 to £11 in recent weeks and pharmacies have been struggling to meet demand.
A CMA spokesperson said people have got “real concerns” about the price of antibiotics used to treat Strep A and that it wants companies “to be clear about their obligations under the law”. They said: “There should be no doubt that it is illegal for a dominant company to charge excessive prices, or for any companies to collude to drive up prices.”
The spokesperson added: “We are working to establish the facts of what is currently happening in the market and welcome new information as part of our work. We stand ready to take action if there is evidence of anti-competitive behaviour that breaks the law.”
This comes after a shortage of the antibiotics used to treat Strep A, including penicillin, was reported. The Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP) has said the problem is now getting worse and urged the government to take action.
Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist at Chemist Click, said there was a current shortage of penicillin in the UK and that “it is either out of stock with wholesalers, or above the tariff price, which means that it costs pharmacies more than what the NHS will pay them for it”.
Last week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said there was no shortage of antibiotics and stock could be moved around if any particular area was experiencing problems with supply. But on Monday, the Department of Health issued a medicine supply notification for antibiotics for the treatment of Strep A.
It said: “Supplies of antibiotics for the treatment of Group A Strep have seen a surge in demand and may be temporarily in limited supply at certain wholesalers and pharmacies. Supplies are available with manufacturers, and deliveries into wholesalers and pharmacies are being expedited and are expected in the coming days.”