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Reckitt Benckiser (RB) has been fined Â£10.2 million after admitting to anti-competitive behaviour when supplying heartburn treatment to the NHS.
The company was given the penalty by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) after it was discovered that it tried to restrict competition to its Gaviscon treatment by only offering doctors a more expensive version of the product when they searched prescribing software.
The OFT first made its claims in February, and reduced the fine from a potential Â£12 million because Reckitt admitted to infringing UK and European competition law.
Doctors use software to search for well-branded products and then provide patients with an “open” prescription which lists its generic name.
This allows pharmacies to choose whether to dispense the brand or a cheaper rival, at considerable cost savings to the NHS.
The OFT said RB deliberately delisted a sister product in 2005 just before cheaper generic rivals joined the list.
The timing of this meant that an NHS doctor searching for Gaviscon would instead bring up its Gaviscon Advance Liquid – a patent protected version which did not have an “open” prescription that would have allowed generic rivals to be shown to GPs, according to the OFT.
John Fingleton, chief executive of the OFT, said: “Vigorous competition between firms supplying the public sector is vital to ensure taxpayers get the best value for money.”
The heartburn treatment market costs the NHS Â£15 million to Â£20 million a year.
Copyright Press Association 2010