Durban: January 17, 2005

The government has lashed out at pharmacists, accusing them of 'exploiting' consumers and profiteering by charging high mark-ups on drugs in the confusion between court hearings regarding new pricing regulations.

The controversial legislation which scraps bonuses, volume discounts and incentives, and imposes single exit price on medicines suffered a severe setback when the Supreme Court of Appeal overturned the regulations in December. The regulations are now hanging in limbo until March 15, when the Constitutional Court is to deliver the final verdict.

"The pricing regulations saga is now positively bordering on the ludicrous. The government is hitting out at the wrong people, forgetting that the solitary source of chaos in the matter is the Department of Health," said IFP KwaZulu-Natal spokesperson on health, Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi, MPP.

Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi also said:

"The pharmacists have simply followed their survival instincts and behaved in accordance with market principles."

"This should come as no surprise to the bureaucrats in government who had been warned well in advance that the proposed cap on pharmacy fees would force many pharmacists out of business."

"The Department of Health's strategy, on the other hand, has been as sensitive as that of an elephant in a china shop."

"First the government imposed unviable pricing mechanisms on traditionally viable businesses. When these could not withstand judicial scrutiny, the government attacked courts for taking decisions it did not like."

"Now the pharmacists, many of whom are on the brink of extinction due to pricing regulations, are being accused of making profits in between court hearings, amid chaos created exclusively by the Department of Health."

"The IFP hereby wishes to provide a perspective: The government, in our view, is learning that any attempt to fix prices is doomed for failure as market forces will always override such attempts. The 'so-called' good intentions do not come into it."

Dr Bonginkosi Buthelezi, 082 516 0156