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Boots issues charity with legal warning over emergency contraception campaign – has yet to reduce price six weeks since public apology

  • Boots hired celebrity law firm Schillings to issue a formal legal complaint to the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, in response to their campaign for affordable emergency contraception
  • Boots accused the charity of the harassment of senior Boots executives, after thousands of people wrote imploring them to reduce the high price of emergency contraception
  • Six weeks ago today, Friday, Boots issued an apology for their previous stance on EC pricing - but has yet to provide women with a more affordable product
  • Other major stores have reduced their price or announced their intention to do so - Boots is now charging more than any other major retailer for emergency contraception in their stores

The leading high-street pharmacy Boots has issued the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, bpas, with a legal warning in response to their campaign for affordable emergency contraception, accusing the healthcare charity of encouraging the abuse of Boots senior executives after thousands of people wrote to them asking them to reconsider their position on emergency contraception. The company had said they were keeping the price high in order to prevent “inappropriate use” by women and to prevent complaints by those opposed to women using emergency contraception.

A letter was issued to bpas on 1st August 2017 by Schillings LLP, the international reputation consultancy who previously handled the Ryan Giggs super-injunction and has also represented Naomi Campbell and Lance Armstrong, on behalf of Boots. Boots demanded that bpas should not make details of their legal warning public.

In their letter, Boots accuses bpas of the “facilitation and tacit encouragement of personal abuse” that “caused immense personal distress” to senior Boots executives, including Managing Director Elizabeth Fagan and Chief Pharmacist Marc Donovan. The letter demands bpas ceases their campaign in its current form. Thousands of members of the public contacted Boots via the bpas campaign: in the letter, Boots described emails and comments on social media as a “torrent of personal abuse” against their employees, yet failed to provide any evidence of abuse sent through the campaign. In fact Boots comprehensively misrepresented messages from members of the public sent through the bpas campaign, which included women who needed to use EC in a range of circumstances, from being the victim of sexual assault to having missed a pill, as well as pharmacists, GPs, and other healthcare professionals.

Emails included:

“I have, as a cash-strapped and rather terrified student, bought the emergency contraception from Boots in the past. I skipped lunch that week to cover the cost. Someone who cannot afford lunch, cannot afford to have a child. The idea that your fear that lowering the price could open Boots up to accusations of incentivising inappropriate use is absolutely abhorrent, and reflects a complete lack of corporate morality and responsibility as well as understanding of your customers.  It also begs the question: what is inappropriate use of emergency contraception?"

“As a GP I frequently have to advise women whose contraception has failed. With the increasing pressure on GP appts it is more important than ever that women and girls should have timely access to post coital contraception from pharmacies, and your current pricing strategy is a barrier to this.”

“I had to weigh up the risk of an unwanted pregnancy a time at a difficult time in my life against using up approx 30% of the money I had left until payday. This caused unnecessary distress. I had assumed that this reflected the cost of the drug but if your competitors are able to reduce the price then it appears you are choosing to profit from a difficult moment in someone's life. I can't condone this. I hope you will do the right thing this time and change this policy.”

bpas launched its campaign for affordable emergency contraception in November 2016, and nearly all the largest pharmacies have now lowered the cost. Six weeks since Boots issued an apology on 21st July and committed to “looking at the sourcing of less expensive EHC medicines”, the retailer has yet to provide customers with a more affordable product. Boots currently sells Levonelle for £28.25 and its own generic version for £26.75, compared to £13.50 for Levonelle or its generics at Tesco, Morrisons, Asda and Superdrug. There are independent high street pharmacies charging as little as £6.99, and online providers £4.99. Boots now charge more than any other major pharmacy for emergency contraception in their stores.

For more information please contact the bpas press office on 0207 061 3377 or press@bpas.org.

ENDS

Notes to Editors

About bpas

bpas is a charity which sees more than 70,000 women a year and provides reproductive healthcare services including pregnancy counselling, abortion care, miscarriage management and contraception, at clinics across the UK. It supports and advocates for reproductive choice. More information can be found at bpas.org.