Headache pills and indigestion tablets. Expensive enough to cause the problem rather than cure it. These tablets don’t need a prescription from the doctor so you can buy them over the counter but in Switzerland you have to go to a pharmacy. They aren’t on sale in supermarkets, kiosks and petrol stations like they are elsewhere. All that means is higher prices. Bad for the consumer, great for the chemists and drug companies.
Let’s look at some prices in some comparable shops in Switzerland and Britain (ie not the cheapest UK supermarkets), noting that the exchange rate is about £1 = 1.50 francs at the moment:
Rennie. In Boots in the UK: 24 tablets for £2.10 (or roughly 9p per tablet). In Müller in Switzerland: 9.40 francs for 36 tablets (or roughly 26 rappen per tablet), which should be cheaper as it’s a bigger pack.
The British Rennie are about 13 rappen each, or half the price of the Swiss ones. For the same thing.
Paracetamol (500mg each), generic no-brand. In Boots: 16p for 16 tablets. In Müller: 5.30 fr for 20 tablets. That makes 1.5 rappen per pill in Britain, and 26 rappen each in Switzerland.
Swiss consumers pay 17 times the price charged in the UK. Daylight robbery.
Ibuprofen. In Boots Nurofen (leading brand): 24 pills for £3.05. In Müller (Algifor brand): 10.70 fr for 10 pills. The Swiss pills are twice as strong (400mg not 200mg) but far more the twice the price.
Two British pills cost 26p (or 39 rappen); one stronger Swiss pill costs 1.07 fr. Almost three times the price.
Even for cheaper non-brand ibuprofen, the British pills are 26 rappen for 400mg and the Swiss 69 rappen for 400mg. Still hugely overpriced. The higher overheads in Switzerland can’t possibly justify such price differences.
The pharma industry in Switzerland (from drug companies to chemists) wants you to believe that you need ‘proper advice’ before buying these pills. Rubbish. As is the ‘advice’, which is usually along the lines of: Is it for you? Have you taken them before? Answer yes to both and you get the pills. And for that you have to pay through the nose.
Yes, paracetamol can be dangerous, which is why in non-chemist outlets in the UK you can only buy two packets at a time and have to be age-checked. But the ‘advice’ given in Swiss pharmacies is so useless that it’s merely a cover to justify maintaining a monopolistic cartel that benefits everyone except the consumer. Do you really need a woman in white coat to ask you fatuous questions before selling you overpriced indigestion tablets? No.
Of course it’s all about money not patient care. In 2010 86 million packets of over-the-counter medicines (ie no prescription needed) were sold in Switzerland. That’s worth over one billion francs. And three-quarters of the market was taken by chemists and pharmacies. The other quarter was split between doctors and hospitals, who are allowed to sell medicines direct to their patients.
No wonder the pharmacies want to keep hold of their monopoly. And are scared of competition.
And that’s why I buy all such medicines in Britain. If I thought for one moment that the extra cost of buying them here was justified in terms of advice, service or patient care, I would think again. But it’s not about the consumer – pharmacies are here to make money. Perhaps that’s why there are so many of them in Switzerland.