Boots is under pressure to explain why it has yet to lower the price of the morning-after pill across all of its stores despite claims it would do so by the end of October.
In a letter seen by BuzzFeed News, backed by more than 130 Labour MPs, the high street pharmacy was accused of having "failed to live up to this clear commitment to women".
"It is dismaying that Boots have not fulfilled their promise from earlier this year to provide cheaper, more affordable emergency contraception to women by October," shadow minister for public health Sharon Hodgson told BuzzFeed News after sending the letter to Boots's UK managing director Elizabeth Fagan.
In July, Boots said it would lower the price of its generic emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) drug levonorgestrel from £26.75 to £15.99, but by the end of October it had only rolled out the new price in 38 stores in the Nottingham area.
Boots told BuzzFeed News that the drug was available at the reduced price in 31 further stores in Derby and Mansfield, but did not say when it would be available in all its 2,500 stores.
A spokesperson for Boots said: "We remain committed to rolling this service out nationally." But they said supplier issues were preventing the company from offering the new price across all of its branches.
"Unfortunately the manufacturer has experienced a batch failure due to quality issues which means that the stock we were expecting is not now available, and we are now waiting for a new batch to be produced," the spokesperson added.
In her letter, Hodgson accused Boots of being "either unable or unwilling to deliver on your pledge", and urged the company to follow the lead of other high street pharmacies and immediately lower the price while the supply chain issues are ironed out.
Earlier this summer, several pharmacies, including Lloyds Pharmacy and supermarket Tesco, began selling emergency contraception for between £9 and £13 following lobbying by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS).
At the time, Boots provoked outrage when its chief pharmacist said lowering the price would "incentivise inappropriate use", but the company pledged to cut it after many threatened a boycott.
In her letter, Hodgson said it was "difficult to understand why Boots – our leading high street pharmacy, who states they have a commitment to women's health and wellbeing", has not been able to follow the lead of its competitors.
“Whilst Boots say they have started the process of rolling out this product in the stores, the progress they have made so far can only be described as a drop in the ocean with a long way to go before it is accessible in each of their 2,500 stores across the country," Hodgson continued.
The MP said it was of particular importance for Boots to offer cheaper emergency contraception as Christmas approaches, when, according to BPAS research, the number of unplanned pregnancies rises.
"As we enter the festive period – where women struggle to access contraceptive services and their usual family planning methods – it is crucial that Boots get their act together and roll out this cheaper emergency contraception as promised earlier in the year,” Hodgson added.
A spokesperson for BPAS, which has been lobbying pharmacies to lower the price of EHC, welcomed Labour's intervention.
"It is absolutely scandalous that Boots have failed to deliver on the clear pledge they made to roll out cheaper emergency contraception in all their stores," BPAS's spokesperson said.
"There can be absolutely no excuse for their pathetically slow pace of progress, other than the fact that they simply do not want to provide women with an affordable product.
“If Boots cannot 'source' a new version of emergency contraception to sell at a lower price, then they should do the right thing and cut the price of the version they currently have in stock."
Read the letter in full:
We write further to our letter of 21st July 2017 to express our disappointment at Boots' failure to provide women with affordable emergency contraception as promised.
We welcomed Boots' announcement on 21st July that you would be looking to source less expensive emergency hormonal contraception medicines for your customers, and your statement on 31st August that you had been "working hard with the manufacturer to increase supply" of a cheaper alternative and as a result would be "able to offer this across all stores in October 2017," We were dismayed, therefore, to learn that you have failed to live up to this clear commitment to women.
We understand that, in response to media requests, Boots issued a statement on 31st October in which you cited "supply chain delays" as the reason for your inability to roll out the affordable alternative across your nearly 2,500 stores as promised. In August you said the cheaper pill was available in 38 stores and 69 stores according to your latest statement this week. Yet, there is no clear commitment for the cheaper product to be available across all of your stores.
Given that the vast majority of your competitors have been offering women a more affordable product for a number of months, it is difficult to understand why Boots -our leading high street pharmacy, who states they have a commitment to women's health and wellbeing have been unable to do so.
As you are undoubtedly aware, over the Christmas period many women struggle to access contraceptive services and their usual family planning method. As a result, the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, reports that they see an increased number of women facing an unplanned pregnancy following the festive season.
Clearly, pharmacy access to emergency contraception is of an even greater importance in December and January - which we are fast approaching.
We are deeply concerned that Boots are either unable or unwilling to deliver on your pledge. If you are as you state, experiencing difficulties sourcing a new generic emergency contraceptive, we ask that you in the meantime consider reducing the price of the generic EHC that you currently stock.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson MP
Member of Parliament for Washington & Sunderland West Shadow Minister for Public Health
Ruth Smeeth MP Laura Pidcock MP Anna Turley MP Mary Creagh MP Julie Elliott MP Stella Creasy MP Thangam Debbonaire MP Rosie Duffield MP Virendra Sharma MP David Drew MP Sue Hayman MP Barbara Keeley MP Eleanor Smith MP Chris Matheson MP Diana Johnson MP Luke Pollard MP Anneliese Dodds MP Kerry McCarthy MP lan Mearns MP Ann Coffey MP Joan Ryan MP John Mann MP Siobhain McDonagh MP Cat Smith MP David Lammy MP Yvonne Fovargue MP Melanie Onn MP Jo Platt MP Jess Phillips MP Emma Hardy MP Jo Stevens MP Tonia Antoniazzi MP Liz Kendall MP Tracey Brabin MP Louise Haigh MP Thelma Walker MP Julie Cooper MP George Howarth MP Hugh Gaffney MP Kate Green MP Alex Cunningham MP Sarah Champion MP Ronnie Campbell MP Martin Whitfield MP Ruth George MP Catherine West MP Stephen Twigg MP Gareth Thomas MP Liz McInnes MP Ruth Cadbury MP Liam Byrne MP Preet Gill MP Anna McIVIorrin MP Jack Dromey MP Clive Efford MP Richard Burden MP Steve Reed MP Bill Esterson MP Harriet Harman MP G'oria De Piero MP Matthew Pennycook MP Lucy Powell MP Rupa Hug MP Rachel Reeves MP Marsha De Cordova MP Rosena Allin-Khan MP Seema Malhotra MP Dawn Butler MP Angela Rayner MP Sarah Jones MP Laura Smith MP Luciana Berger MP Helen Hayes MP Naz Shah MP Yasmin Qureshi MP Paula Sherriff MP Grahame Morris MP Gill Furniss MP Vicky Foxcroft MP Roger Godsiff MP Geoffrey Robinson MP Margaret Hodge MP Jim Cunningham MP Fabian Hamilton MP Justin Madders MP Diane Abbott MP Peter Kyle MP Alan Whitehead MP Darren Jones MP Paul Farrelly MP Paul Flynn MP Gerald Jones MP Caroline Flint MP Stephen Morgan MP Margaret Beckett MP Pat McFadden MP Graham Stringer MP Nic Dakin MP Chi Onwurah MP Alison McGovern MP Geraint Davies MP Chris Evans MP Jeff Smith MP Carolyn Harris MP Paul Sweeney MP Tony Lloyd MP Ann Clwyd MP Vernon Coaker MP Barry Sheerman MP Ian Lavery MP John Grogan MP Nell Coyle MP Mike Amesbury MP Adrian Bailey MP Tulip Siddiq MP Chris Bryant MP Roberta Blackman-Woods MP Stephanie Peacock MP Lillian Greenwood MP Jonathan Ashworth MP Daniel Zeichner MP Danielle Rowley MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP Mark Tami MP Matt Western MP Ellie Reeves MP Andrew Slaughter MP Chris Elmore MP Wayne David MP Bannbos Charalambous MP Sandy Martin MP Valarie Vaz MP Hillary Benn MP John Woodcock MP Steve McCabe MP Matt Rodda MP Dr Paul Williams MP
Laura Silver is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.
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