A Labour MP is celebrating after forcing WH Smith to lower its prices in hospital shops, after an investigation revealed it charges nearly double high-street prices for some items.
Research from The Times found that WH Smith and Marks & Spencer charge significantly more in hospital stores, leading to accusations that they were taking advantage of vulnerable sick people and their relatives.
One WH Smith hospital shop charged 90% more for cards, while the same 750ml bottle of Evian water cost £1.69 at a hospital WH Smith, but only 99p at a high street shop nearby.
But after a targetted campaign from Paula Sherriff, the MP for Dewsbury and Mirfield, has convinced WH Smith CEO Stephen Clarke to match high-street prices for the first time.
WH Smith has agreed to review its prices in hospital shops after being accused of exploiting patients by Dewsbury MP Paula Sherriff— BBC Look North (@BBCLookNorth) September 22, 2015
The WH Smith boss has agreed to drop prices on a range of products, after a meeting with Sherriff.
Prices for stationery will now be the same as on the high street, and WH Smith will now stock a range of 'value' greeting cards in hospital outlets, starting form 89p. High street promotions will also be replicated in hospital shops so patients don't lose out.
WH Smith has also promised to make sure food and drink prices in hospital stores don't exceed high street prices by more than 2%.
Sherriff, who is a former NHS worker and sits on the House of Commons health select committee, led the charge against the "outrageous" prices and said that retailers' excuses were "laughable".
Speaking in August when the revelations were published, Sherriff said: “It’s absolutely wrong. It feels like exploitation of a captive audience. Patients may be on a drip, or in their pyjamas — they may not have the choice to go anywhere else.
"We’ve already seen patients being charged to watch TV from their beds, and this just feels like another example of the creeping commercialisation within hospitals. Where does it end?”
Yesterday she expressed her delight at the victory over WH Smith, saying: "This is a welcome first step for NHS patients, visitors and staff, who were frankly being exploited to boost the bottom line of some of Britain's biggest businesses while the government looks the other way."
But she vowed to continue her fight against other retailers: "It's disappointing that ministers have failed to act, but I will be meeting other retailers soon and I hope they will follow this lead. Whether it's higher prices in the shops or charging for car parks, those who use or work in our hospitals are the paying an unfair price and it's about time that changed."
WH Smith and M&S defended themselves by saying the prices reflected higher running costs for hospital shops, complex delivery arrangements and longer opening hours, but Sherriff pointed out that other chains like Costa coffee do not charge more in hospitals.
“[The excuses] don’t wash with me at all," she said. "Some of these chains have outlets on some very elite streets. Surely rentals [in hospitals] cannot exceed Oxford Street? And the argument that delivery costs are somehow higher to hospitals than anywhere else is just laughable.”
Sherriff pledged to continue her campaign to get a better deal from retailers like M&S, which was also exposed to have higher prices in hospitals.
In the Times investigation, M&S was found to charge up to £7 more for the same bunches of flowers if they were in hospitals.
M&Ss' free-range egg and cress sandwich was also found to be 42% more expensive at the Royal Free hospital in London's Hampstead, than on the high street next to it.