Consumer agency pulls drug price survey over errors
Watchdog blames pharmacists for mistakes in report
The headline drug in the survey was the anti-reflux medication Losec. The agency claimed a pharmacy in Dublin was selling it for €16.62 while another was selling it for €49.69, a difference of 199 per cent. However, the cost price of Losec is €15.48.
The National Consumer Agency (NCA) has been forced into an embarrassing climbdown over a survey it published last week on the cost of prescription drugs after it emerged that it got some of the prices wrong.
Last week the agency said its survey highlighted huge price differences for identical drugs in various pharmacies across the State. But yesterday it was removed from the NCA website.
Although the agency took the survey down, it refused to accept responsibility for the incorrect information and instead blamed individual pharmacists who, it claims, gave its researchers the wrong prices for some drugs.
In its report the NCA claimed that a month’s supply of Nexium, used to treat stomach ulcers, was selling in one pharmacy for €22.81 and in another at €37.30, a price difference of 64 per cent.
However, the medicine’s cost price is €21.53. And with most pharmacists charging private patients the cost price plus a mark-up of at least 20 per cent as well as a dispensing fee of between €3 and €5, any pharmacist selling it at the price in the NCA survey would effectively have been doing so at a loss.
Another drug the NCA priced was Seretide Evohaler. This has a cost price of €67.78 but the NCA survey claimed it was selling in one pharmacy for €71.60. Again allowing for the conventional mark -up and dispensing fee, a more realistic price would have been about €80.
The headline drug in the survey was the anti-reflux drug Losec. The agency claimed a pharmacy in Dublin was selling it for €16.62 while another pharmacy was selling it for €49.69, a difference of 199 per cent. However, the cost price of this drug is €15.48.
Allowing for the lowest mark-up and a dispensing fee, the correct price would be about €24, which is the average price according to the NCA survey.
On Thursday, The Irish Times asked the agency if it could confirm whether the lowest price it had published for Losec was correct. But the NCA said it would not be able to provider that information until next Tuesday.
In a statement released to this newspaper it confirmed that some of its prices were wrong but said it was not to blame.
“Mystery shopping is not an option, as an actual prescription would be required,” said a spokeswoman.
She also said there was no price displays in pharmacies so “seeking accurate data from the pharmacists themselves is the only practical method of gathering pricing information”.
She added that the NCA did not think it was “possible to check all the data supplied through call-backs” and said “we regret any inaccuracies supplied by the pharmacists and any confirmed inaccuracies will be immediately amended in the report”.
The president of the Irish Pharmacy Union, Rory O’Donnell, expressed outrage over the inaccuracies in the report and the NCA’s attempts to blame individual pharmacies.
“This is a national body and it is its job to stand over the figures in its report. They should have been checked and rechecked.”
He accused the agency of rushing out the report in order to garner newspaper headlines and called the report “a cheap shot” against the pharmacy profession.