Consumers advised to shop around for prescription medicines

People are being urged to shop around for prescription medicines in a bid to get the best deal on offer.

The call comes from the National Consumer Agency in the wake of the publication of its study which reported a 97 per cent difference in prescription medicine prices in Galway pharmacies.

The nationwide survey of 45 pharmacies, found large variations both nationally and in local areas, for the prices charged to private customers for 39 common prescription medicines.

The products included in the survey were selected from a list of commonly prescribed medicines provided by the Health Service Executive (HSE ). The survey also found differences in relation to pharmacies’ policies on dispensing fees.

Key findings of the survey include:

• In Galway, the average percentage difference across the 39 products was found to be 30 per cent.

• The highest percentage difference here was for the cholesterol lowering medication Lipostat 20 Mg (28 ) priced between €19.42 and €38.30, a price difference of 97 per cent.

• The cost of Valium tablets 5 Mg (100 ), used to treat anxiety, were between €4.50 and €8.27, a price difference of 84 per cent.

• Tenormin-50 Tabs (28 ), used to treat angina and high blood pressure, were priced from €6.03 to €9.39 in Galway, a price difference of 56 per cent.

Nationally, the percentage differences in prices of individual prescription medicines ranged from 37 per cent to 199 per cent. The average percentage difference across all products nationally was 56 per cent.

Karen O’Leary, the chief executive of the NCA, said its survey shows there are huge differences in the cost of individual prescription medicines in local areas.

“Many private customers may not be aware of these price differentials. We would urge consumers, especially those on long-term medication and who do not meet the criteria for the various State-funded drug schemes, to compare the costs of prescription medicines in their local area before choosing a pharmacy. Consumers can compare prices by simply visiting or phoning pharmacies and requesting that pharmacy’s price for the prescription required.

“In the course of our study some pharmacists indicated that in some circumstances, prices could be reduced. For example, some pharmacies said they reduce the overall cost for their customers by not applying the dispensing fee, or applying just one dispensing fee on a number of prescribed products. We would advise consumers to speak to their pharmacist to see if these reductions are available, particularly if they are making regular purchases.”

The NCA also sought information in relation to pharmacies’ polices on dispensing fees. It discovered a range of different policies apply. Some pharmacies apply a standard dispensing fee. With others, this fee varies with the price of prescription medicines and in a small number of instances, pharmacists do not charge a dispensing fee on certain products.

Ms O’Leary believes more needs to be done to help customers compare the costs of prescription medicines and avail of price differentials.

“As a pharmacy’s dispensing fee policy may have a large bearing on the final price paid by consumers the prominent display of the pharmacy’s policy would help improve price transparency and help to inform consumers. We have written today to the pharmacy regulator, the Pharmaceutical Society of Ireland (PSI ) as we want to work with them to improve consumer access to price information in the sector. We are calling for the inclusion of a specific reference to the display of dispensing fee policy by pharmacists at their premises in the PSI code of conduct or other relevant guidelines.”

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