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Opportunistic businesses ripping off primary care by charging extortionate PPE prices


By Awil Mohamoud
Reporter
5 May 2020

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GP practices and care homes are being left with no choice but to buy PPE at heavily inflated prices, from profiteering businesses purchasing in bulk from suppliers, healthcare professionals have said.

Salford practice manager and Bury councillor, Andrea Simpson, told Management in Practice that her practice has been receiving emails from new sellers on a daily basis, offering PPE at twice or three times the normal cost.

‘People who don’t normally sell PPE, including stationers, have started buying in bulk and are selling it to practices at top rates. We used to buy face masks for around £9 plus VAT for 50. The cheapest we can get them for now is £35 plus VAT.

‘By buying in bulk they are also depriving care providers of PPE.’

The companies the practice used to rely on for PPE gear are now out of stock. Ms Simpson said that after the pandemic, she will boycott suppliers that are selling to the opportunistic third-party companies and making this possible.

As a result of shortages, some practices have had to rely on community donations or have resorted to crafting their own PPE from office supplies. 

Ms Simpson said that her CCG has made assurances about practices getting reimbursement for extra costs.

However, the NHS will have to cover these inflated costs, which will lead to a ‘knock on effect to us all down the line’, with regard to funding, for instance, she suggested.

A Healthcare Leader investigation has found that some PPE suppliers are also hiking their prices in light of the heightened demand.

We found one online PPE company selling two FFP3 face masks for £35.99, despite having it listed for only £4.79 last June – a 650% markup. Another company put its price for 1L hand sanitiser up from £13.45 to £27.99 – a 108% increase. Elsewhere, another online business increased the price of disposable gloves by 163%.

Nick Hulme, Chief executive of East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust, also recently called out ‘outrageous profiteering’ on Twitter after a company offered to sell him coveralls at £16.50 each, despite ‘selling them for £2’ just two months ago.

Local response

As councillor, Ms Simpson said she spoke to the council chief executive about the possibility of bulk-buying from suppliers. Her PCN has also been working together to swap PPE according to need.

What is being done nationally?

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), which set up a ‘Covid-19 Taskforce’ to respond to exploitative business practices, said it received 21,000 complaints regarding PPE, food, toilet paper etc. between 10 March to 19 April 2020.

It said most of the complaints it initially received concerned price rises, and although that has decreased significantly, it is ‘still receiving reports’.

The CMA also said up to 5% of complaints related to ‘misleading claims’, including those ‘about the efficacy of personal protective equipment’.

It said it is investigating complaints of ‘unjustifiable price rises’ and taking steps to prevent it, including by issuing warning letters to traders and enforcing action where the competition or consumer law has been broken.

The CMA has urged people to report businesses behaving unfairly during the Covid-19 outbreak using its online form.

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