Anger at sky high hospital shop prices

Liberton Hospital. Picture: Greg Macvean
Liberton Hospital. Picture: Greg Macvean
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ANGRY patients’ relatives have hit out at the “unfair” prices being charged in hospital shops after discovering basic items on sale at more than double the price of local supermarkets.

One was astonished to discover a bottle of Robinsons orange squash costing £2.15 at Liberton Hospital’s on-site store when it was being sold for £1 at a Morrison’s store just half a mile away.

At the same time, WH Smith at the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh is selling Irn-Bru for £1.79 for a 500ml bottle – the supermarket charges 91p.

Scotland’s patient watchdog today criticised the prices being charged at hospital shops, saying it was unfairly taking advantage of a captive market.

Dr Jean Turner, patron of the Scotland Patients’ Association, said: “You have a captive consumer in hospitals and it is very unfair to charge over the odds.

“Staff in hospitals are working long hours and might not be able to get out to go to the shops, and relatives coming to see patients may also be rushing and not have much choice.”

Jean Markham, of Willowbrae, was stunned to discover huge price difference between the shop at Liberton Hospital, which specialises in care of the elderly, and the nearby Morrisons on Gilmerton Road.

“You expect things to be more expensive in hospital shops, but that is just ridiculous. I don’t know who runs the shop but I don’t know how you can justify charging that much more.”

The small shop at Liberton is run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) charity, which sets its own prices, after being given the contract for the branch by NHS Lothian. Other items on sale there include a Twix – normally 60p in shops – for 99p and cans of Coke for £1, which cost around 70p in supermarkets.

The charity said that it wasn’t always able to match high-street prices and pointed out that all its profits were ploughed back into its frontline work caring for elderly people.

Dr Turner, a former GP, added: “The softening blow (in this case) is that it is a charity so you know that some of the money is going towards helping people but I think that is missing the whole point of having shops and banks in hospitals.”

The prices charged in the shops at the Royal Infirmary have long been a bug bear for patients, relatives and staff.

In the WH Smith store there, as well as Irn-Bru costing £1.79, almost double the price in the local supermarket, a pint of milk costs 85p. The high street chain promised earlier this year to cap the price of some items in its hospital branches after criticism of the way it was marking up items including “get well soon” cards. No one was available for comment at WH Smith.

The RVS is one of the largest voluntary organisations in the country, focusing on helping older people stay active and independent. The organisation runs a string of hospital shops across Lothian, including at St John’s Hospital, in Livingston, and the Western General.

Kate Bull, executive director of retail at the RVS, said it was often difficult for charity shops to match the prices of some of the high-street giants. She said: “Where possible we match prices on the high-street but large supermarkets stock higher volumes, and can therefore negotiate directly with the manufacturer to get better deals.

“The profits made from our retail estate enable us to run services supporting older people in hospital, in their homes and in the community.”

Medics attack ‘unsustainable’ level of vacancies

Organisations representing Scotland’s doctors and nurses have raised concerns over NHS vacancies.

The British Medical Association (BMA) Scotland said an “extremely worrying” number of consultant posts were vacant for more than six months, while the Royal College of Nursing Scotland said the vacancy rate for nurses and midwives is “unsustainable”.

Statistics show that at September 30, NHS Scotland had a total headcount of 160,897, the equivalent to 137,727.9 whole-time staff.

The figure represents a 0.8 per cent increase in whole-time equivalent staff from the previous year.

Health secretary Shona Robison said: “Under this government, NHS staff numbers have risen.”