Pharmacies free to mark up gluten-free items

THE Irish Pharmacists’ Union has said it has no control over members who are putting substantial mark- ups on the gluten-free products they sell for coeliac customers.

“The pricing of medicines, including gluten- free products, is a matter for each pharmacist to consider individually. Prices have always varied from pharmacy to pharmacy and the IPU has no input in this,” an IPU spokesperson said.

Coeliac disease is an auto- immune disease that affects one in 100 Irish people.

Sufferers have a serious reaction to wheat, barley and rye and have to strictly adhere to a gluten-free diet. Under the drug payment scheme (DPS), coeliacs are entitled to free gluten-free products once they spend over €120 per month on their diet at a pharmacy.

However, consumers have been complaining that gluten-free products in chemists are often twice as expensive as the same product in a supermarket.

They claim that chemists are “ripping off the taxpayer” by charging inflated prices so that coeliacs reach the €120 threshold quicker.

Roisín O’Driscoll is a coeliac from Carrigaline in Co Cork. She says she was “shocked” to find that a common brand of gluten- free pasta cost €7.50 in a Cork pharmacy, while it is generally sold for between €2.49 and €2.99 in Irish supermarkets.

“Recently, I decided that I would buy in batch so that I could avail of the Drug Payment Scheme.

“I was shocked at the pricing. The mark-up is extortionate and it is at the expense of the taxpayer if the person reaches the threshold and can claim for those products. Coeliacs are not choosing to eat gluten-free products, their food is their medication,” said Roisín.

“I believe the DPS does not work for most coeliacs. I think that realistically you would only reach the monthly threshold if you had a number of coeliacs in your family and I don’t. I have long felt that coeliacs should be given a tax credit rather than the DPS system,” she said.

A spokeswoman for the Coeliac Society of Ireland last night said that “they were doing their best to advocate for coeliacs in difficult economic circumstances”.

More in this section