WH Smith and Marks & Spencer have been accused of routinely charging customers substantially more for goods in hospital shops, compared with their high street stores.

BBC investigation reveals that the two retailers are exploiting a captive market by making hospital patients and their visitors pay more for the same items at hospital stores. Examples include a £7 increase in the price of flowers and almost a 100% increase in the price of ‘get well soon’ cards.

The BBC compared the prices of water and stationery items at WH Smith shops in Pontefract Hospital with the retailer's branch near Trinity shopping centre in Leeds. This revealed that WH Smith was charging £1.89 for a 750ml bottle of water at the hospital compared to £1 in the town. At £3.99, a pad of A4 paper was about 60% higher than the £2.49 price in Leeds city centre. Marks & Spencer has also been criticised as BBC notes that the sandwiches and snacks were about 15% more expensive at hospital stores than on the high street. 

The two retailers have tried to justify the increased costs citing higher running costs. WH Smith told the BBC that “locations such as hospitals are more complex environments to operate in, with certain operational costs being significantly higher than on the high street, for example longer opening hours, more complicated delivery arrangements and often higher occupational costs.”

Despite these reasons, it cannot be denied that retailers are exploiting a captive market, targeting vulnerable patients and their families. Katherine Murphy, chief executive of the independent charity, the Patients Association, told the BBC she was “shocked because they are targeting the wrong people; poorly paid staff and patients.”

The Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team recently reported that, despite government recommendations, the cost of hospital parking continues to increase with the highest charges in London reaching an average of £20 a day.

Camilla Wonnacott, a member of the clinical negligence team, said: “Many of our clients have suffered significant injuries which require regular visits to hospital for treatment. As a result, they often incur the increasing costs of parking and are having to pay the notably higher costs of goods in shops at a time when they are most vulnerable. This does not seem fair or just.”