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Higher prices at hospital shops under scrutiny

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The retailer WH Smith has been criticised for charging more for bottles of water and notepads in its hospital-based shops than it does in outlets on the high street.

Separate investigations by a national newspaper and a local BBC radio station revealed the price differential, which the retailer argued was due to the higher costs of operating shops in settings such as hospitals and railway stations.

BBC Radio Leeds compared the prices of water and stationery items at WH Smith shops in Pontefract and Wakefield hospitals with the retailer’s branch near Trinity shopping centre in Leeds.

The retailer was found to be charging £1.89 for a 750ml bottle of water at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield and £1.49 at Pontefract Hospital, but the same product could be bought for £1 in Leeds.

Other items that were more expensive included a pad of A4 paper that was priced at £3.99 in both hospitals, compared to £2.49 in Leeds city centre.

Meanwhile, The Independent found that a 750ml Evian bottle of water at WHSmith’s Hammersmith store in London cost £1.39 but was priced at £1.69 in the shop at St Thomas’ Hospital – representing a 22% mark-up.

An A4 notepad in the hospital store was 44% more expensive at £12.99, compared with £8.99, said the newspaper.

A further example was recently revealed in Swansea’s Morriston Hospital, where customers were charged £2.99 for a pack of Minstrel chocolates, which usually cost around £2 on the high street.

The chain was also charging 99p for a can of coke, which costs 65p in a high street store, reported the South Wales Evening Post.

The difference in price has been openly criticised by the Patients Association and Paula Sherriff, Labour MP for Dewsbury and a member of the Commons’ health select committee.

Responding to the investigations, WH Smith cited that hospitals were “more complex environments to operate in” than high street locations.

It said “certain operational costs” were “significantly” higher than on the high street, for example longer opening hours, more complicated delivery arrangements and often higher occupational costs.

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