Hospital shop price row prompts contracts review call

CALLS have been made for a review of how hospital shops are selected after patients complained of paying over the odds for basic goods.

The WH Smith shop at the ERI. Picture: comp

Politicians from all sides shared their outrage at high prices within hospital shops in Lothian, as revealed by the Evening News this week.

Patients and staff have complained of paying almost double the retail price for items such as bottles of water, grapes and milk in the 
WH Smith at the PFI-built Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

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The nature of the PFI contract means that private firm Consort is responsible for which shops can operate within the hospital, rather than NHS Lothian. Consort declined to comment on the issue.

Neil Findlay, Labour MSP for West Lothian, called for a review into the way contracts for hospital shops were delivered and pledged to raise the issue in the Scottish Parliament.

He said: “It appears to be that there is profiteering going on within shops that are operating on the estate that is used by NHS Lothian.

“These companies appear to be taking advantage of a captive market, similar to how service stations and airports operate.

“It is my view that there should be a review of the way commercial properties in hospitals operate.”

The majority of shops in NHS Lothian hospitals are run by the Royal Voluntary Service (RVS) charity, which sets its own prices for goods.

Complaints have been made about prices within these smaller shops, as one elderly patient spotted a bottle of 
Robinsons orange squash costing £2.15 at Liberton Hospital, when it was being sold for £1 at a nearby Morrisons.

Jim Eadie MSP promised to write to the chairman of WH Smith over the prices, which he deemed “deeply disappointing”.

He added: “Given that the ERI is one of the few hospitals in the country where patients, staff and visitors face car parking charges, the last thing they need is to be faced with overpriced basic provisions.”

WH Smith has aligned its prices after attracting national criticism over the summer for the contrast between costs in hospitals with its high street stores.

The chain has previously cited high rents and long working hours in hospitals as reasons behind the higher prices in its branches.

A WH Smith spokesperson said: “The vast majority of our products are the same price in both our hospital and high street stores. This includes all newspapers, magazines, books and stationery.

“For food and drinks, all prices are the same or very similar, however, we often have different promotions which make our hospital prices cheaper than those in high street stores.

“Our most popular promotion is the £3.79 meal deal.”