Boots bows to pressure to sell cheaper morning after pill

Boots announces it will sell a cheaper version of EHC but issues legal warning to pregnancy charity accusing it of “tacit encouragement of personal abuse”.

Boots logo

High street pharmacy chain Boots has announced it will sell a cheaper generic version of emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) across its 2,500 stores from October.

It follows the ‘Just Say Non!’ campaign by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), which called on major retailers to drop the price of EHC.

The campaign saw many of the large pharmacy chains and supermarkets, including Superdrug and Tesco, lower their prices for the morning after pill to £13.50. But Boots initially refused to follow suit saying it did not want to “incentivise inappropriate use” of emergency contraception or “provoke complaints” from people opposed to the use of the product.

While BPAS welcomed the latest announcement it also revealed that it had received a legal letter from Boots at the beginning of August accusing it of “tacit encouragement of personal abuse” of senior staff after the charity set up a ‘complaints widget’ on its campaign website enabling members of the public to send emails directly to five executives.

A number of abusive quotes allegedly directed at Boots staff via the widget are cited in the letter which accuses BPAS of the “facilitation and tacit encouragement of personal abuse” that “caused immense personal distress” to senior Boots executives, including chief pharmacist, Marc Donovan, and managing director, Elizabeth Fagan.

The letter, sent by law firm Schillings and seen by The Pharmaceutical Journal, also calls on the charity to “cease its campaign in its current form” and requests that personal names of its executives are removed from the widget.

A BPAS spokesperson said its lawyers had responded in detail, refuting the accusations contained in the letter. She told The Pharmaceutical Journal that none of the phrases quoted were sent via its ‘complaints widget’. “Nor for that matter can we find them on Twitter”.

“We are pleased to see that in future Boots will be providing a cheaper emergency contraceptive product across its stores nationwide but we are saddened and surprised that Boots chose to hire a celebrity law firm to accuse a women’s charity of harassment,” she said.

“Thousands of people wrote to Boots through the campaign to ask them to reduce the price. They included personal accounts from women struggling to afford emergency contraception, and healthcare professionals who see women with unplanned pregnancies as a result.

“While this criticism may have been unpleasant for senior Boots executives to hear, to describe it as harassment is grotesque.”

In a statement, Boots said that as a responsible employer, it actively seeks “to protect our colleagues from abuse and harassment”.

“In our legal letter to BPAS … we asked them simply to remove personal email details from their campaign widget and to agree not to encourage personal abuse of our people.

“We provided examples of where our employees have received abuse by email and social media in response to BPAS’s campaign. BPAS have not yet agreed to do this and we will continue to ask that they agree to our simple request, which was made only to protect the interests of our employees. We hope to receive a constructive response from BPAS.”

Meanwhile, Boots has announced that it began selling a generic EHC in 38 of its 2,500 stores four weeks ago for £15.99.

Boots sells the Levonelle brand of EHC for £28.25 and its own brand for £26.75. The chain said it would be making the cheaper generic version of levonorgestrel available in all its 2,500 stores in October 2017, although it is not clear if it will reduce the price of existing brands.

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Citation
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2017, Vol 299, 7905;299(7905):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2017.20203491