HOSPITAL shop bosses have been accused of holding patients, staff and visitors hostage by charging up to eight times more for everyday products such as grapes.
WH Smith attracted national outrage earlier this year when it was revealed that the retailer was charging hospital patients over the odds compared with their high-street stores.
Despite promises to reduce its prices, an Evening News investigation has found that grapes cost nearly eight times more at the WH Smith store at PFI-built Edinburgh Royal Infirmary (ERI), compared with the nearest Sainsbury’s supermarket in Cameron Toll.
A 160g pack of mixed grapes will set shoppers back £2.29 – whereas a 500g punnet costs £2.25 in the Sainsbury’s just over a mile away.
The problem is widespread across Lothian, as our revelations yesterday over sky-high prices at Liberton Hospital’s on-site store sparked fury among patients and families.
One patient was astonished to spot a bottle of Robinson’s orange squash on sale at the hospital shop for £2.15, compared with just £1 at the Morrisons in nearby Gilmerton.
Our story yesterday provoked readers on social media to call for hospital shops to lower their prices.
Steven McKenzie posted on Facebook: “£1.79 for a 500ml bottle? Jeez, at least Dick Turpin wore a mask.”
Gemma Johnstone said: “The newsagents in ERI should be made to lower its prices.
“Exploiting sick people and their relatives is nothing short of disgusting.”
And Joanne Morrison added: “Far too much. Most patients can’t afford the prices.
“Sometimes the patients can’t even afford to get themselves home after a stay in hospital. It’s a rip off.
“I’d rather my friends or family pick up bits and bobs at a supermarket before a visit. Not all people are lucky enough to have family or friends who can visit though.”
Shoppers at the ERI have to fork out £4.49 for a small jar of Nescafe coffee, while Sainsbury’s offers a pot double the size for only £5 just over a mile away.
A pint of milk costs 85p, which is nearly double the price in an ordinary supermarket, while a packet of Strepsils throat lozenges is marked up by 50 per cent. Even a humble tin of Heinz Baked Beans has been given a 32 per cent mark up for the hospital store.
Union bosses said they have had numerous complaints from staff over the high prices since the WH Smith store opened.
Tom Waterson, Lothian branch spokesman for Unison, blasted the high prices which he said were holding staff, patients and visitors “hostage to fortune”.
He said: “The prices in that WH Smith are ridiculously high. We have had complaints from staff since the day it opened.
“Lots of staff have to bring in stuff from outside as it is simply too expensive.
“For little things like a pack of biscuits to take to relatives, you are looking at two or three times the cost.”
Mr Waterson added: “I think it is fine having these facilities in the hospital but they should not be able to hold patients, staff and visitors as hostage to fortune.
“But sadly it is the only shop in the hospital where you can buy those basic goods.”
The ERI was built by Consort Healthcare as part of a PFI scheme in 2003, so NHS Lothian has no control over who runs the shops within the hospital or the prices that they set.
Politicians also criticised the price hikes as unfair to patients and their families.
Sarah Boyack, Lothian Labour MSP, said: “When patients and their families are stuck in hospital, and for some patients it can be for weeks on end, the cost of basic provisions can’t be ignored.
“You’d have expected one of the largest retailers in the UK to be offering a better deal.”
The Scotland Patients Association previously said that the prices being charged are unfair as the shops are taking advantage of a “captive market” – as patients cannot go elsewhere to pick up the things that they need.
WH Smith has more than 600 stores nationwide, and around 600 shops at airports, train stations and service areas such as hospitals.
The firm announced in September that it was preparing to cap its prices in hospitals after claims were made that the store was exploiting shoppers by charging higher prices in hospitals than in the high street.
It was reported that English customers were paying 89p more for a 750ml bottle of water and £1.50 more for an A4 refill pad at one hospital in Wakefield than at a high-street store in Leeds.
WH Smith has previously blamed higher running costs in hospitals for the rip-off prices, due to pricier rents and staff wages for longer opening hours. No-one at WH Smith was available to comment on their prices at the ERI.
Consort Healthcare also declined to comment on the prices being charged at the hospital.
‘Captive audience doesn’t make it right’
Our story yesterday about sky-high hospital prices for basic items provoked dozens of comments on our Facebook page. Here are some of the best ones.
Lesley Allison: “Yes I think it’s ridiculous. The shops also used by the patients. Some long-term and on low income! Ripping us off while we are fighting to get out. Poor show!”
Liz Sproat: “Yes these places are expensive. Unfortunately hospital in-patients are a captive audience and unable themselves to buy anywhere else. We always bought outwith the hospital before we visited.”
Gloria Crolla Silvestri: “Yes, far too high compared to everywhere else! Profit must be made, we understand, and customers can accept small differences, 10/20/30/40p, but when it’s £1 or much more in most cases that is ridiculous and unfair!!!”
Jeannie Berry: “I don’t mind if the money is being given to a charity, but WH Smith are way over the price of their shops in retail parks.”
Allan Brooks: “It’s the same in motorway service stations who charge far more for petrol, etc, than at other places. They have a captive audience. Doesn’t make it right though.”
Mandy Somerville: “No-one HAS to shop there? I work long hours there and always bring stuff with me to work. Again, relatives could bring in stuff from cheaper shops so patients won’t need to buy from the hospital shops. No point being angry, just don’t give them your business if you don’t like it.”
Tom Fleming: “No excuses. NHS should make sure of fair trading in hospitals. Should be a condition of contract.”
Santa Santa Santa: “Nice to see them rip off the pensioners who are there for a very long time, some with no families.”