Pharmacists charging more as cost of paracetamol ‘rockets’

Pharmacists are being forced to charge more for paracetamol due to the increasing cost of the drug globally, a Stormont committee has heard.

The drug has been recommended to relieve some of the symptoms of Covid-19, including high temperatures.

Gerard Greene, of Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland, said a pack of paracetamol had been available to buy for as little as 79p until recently, but now the price through the supply chain is "rocketing".

He told Stormont's health committee: "Paracetamol is one of the most commonly used medicines and available to buy over the counter, traditionally maybe up until last week you could have purchased a pack of it for 79p in the local pharmacy.

"This week the prices that pharmacies are being charged through the supply chain for the same pack is approaching £2, so it is not sustainable for us to sell it at 79p."

Mr Greene explained the price increase as being due to a supply issue.

"There are global issues at play because the supply of some of the core ingredients for paracetamol in India has come into problems, and that has affected the ability of paracetamol to be made globally and therefore there is a supply issue there," he said, adding that efforts are under way to try and fast-track supplies of paracetamol into pharmacies.

Mr Greene said paracetamol is not the only drug of which the price is increasing, and urged government assistance to help pharmacies survive.

"We're seeing some medicines' prices rocketing, we have to buy the medicines in at the price that we are charged otherwise the patients don't get those medicines. This is where pharmacies need the certainty around the funding and the injection to support us," he said.

"We can't carry on with this uncertainty, we can't carry the additional costs at this moment in time when we have an underlying funding issue and therefore we are asking, and we have been in discussion with the department officials around the immediacy of funding being released."

Mr Greene said since the Covid-19 pandemic was announced, community pharmacists have seen a huge surge in numbers coming through their doors, with several thousand more per day.

"Pharmacists and their teams of staff have been literally working round the clock to manage the numbers, to manage the prescriptions, replenish stock, see patients and give advice," he said.

"Profit is not where we are at, this is about basic running costs."

Referring to a range of costs, including drugs, placing screens in shops to help protect staff and other measures, Mr Greene added: "We need an immediate Covid emergency response payment to deal with those costs."

He also stressed that pharmacy teams should have access to testing so they can keep the full complement of staff.