The Daily Telegraph has revealed that the NHS is paying vastly over-inflated prices for products that are widely available over the counter. This includes £89.90 for extra-strength cod liver oil - which is available in chemists for as little as £3.50
So what's going on?
The newspaper was contacted by a whistleblower, who also said that vitamin E and evening primrose oil were costing the NHS enormous sums of money.
The products are being prescribed by doctors. The pharmacists can choose the brand they think most appropriate, and charge the NHS for the cost of the products. The whistleblower was claiming that some pharmacists were deliberately choosing products from a small company, which sells branded products for far higher prices than their competitors. They are then able to reclaim more from the NHS for each prescription.
The dispensing of these products is increasing dramatically. The newspaper reported that last August the supplier in question was responsible for 0.2% of the cod liver oil dispensed by pharmacists, by March this year they were supplying 10.7%.
This is unlikely to impress taxpayers though - especially as it follows hot on the heels of news this week that drug companies were using a legal loophole to inflate the cost of medicines to the NHS. The drug companies sell medicines to companies which are not part of the government's price regulation programme. These companies then sell the drugs on to the NHS at a much higher price: in some cases more than 27 times the price.
EndemicThe Daily Mail pointed out that this is not the first time that the NHS has been found to be paying over-the-odds. An Ernst & Young study concluded that £500 million was wasted by trusts which overpaid. It found that a box of electric blankets which had been sold to one NHS trust for £47 was sold to another for £120.
The overspending seems to be everywhere. In 2011 we reported that one NHS trust in Wales was paying £32 for a loaf of gluten-free bread on prescription, £12 for a bag of pasta and £7 for biscuits. At the time they blamed administration charges.
And while many people support the ring-fencing of the NHS to protect it from the impact of government spending cuts, there are real concerns that while other areas of government are squeezed to within an inch of their lives, the NHS is allowed to get away with this sort of gratuitous overspending.
It's not going to take many headlines like this before George Osborne starts to seriously consider whether the NHS deserves such generous protection after-all.
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