• Sale of NHS lanyards appear to have increased markedly since coronavirus outbreak
  • Increased sales prompt concerns lanyards could be misuse to access NHS discounts
  • Sites say they will remove the lanyards from sale after questions from HSJ

Amazon and eBay have said they will remove NHS staff lanyards and pass holders from sale after HSJ raised concerns to the online shopping giants they could be used for fraudulent purposes.

HSJ contacted both companies after being approached by concerned NHS staff.

One source pointed out sales appeared to have increased since the coronavirus outbreak, and the lanyards could be used by non-NHS employees to access protected shopping hours and other entitlements set up to support health workers since the pandemic hit the UK.

While there is no evidence this has happened yet, HSJ also established sales of some of the lanyards appeared to have increased dramatically since supermarkets introduced protected shopping hours for NHS staff over the last week.

One lanyard advertised on ebay had been purchased seven times up to March 21, but more than 40 since then. Several others seemed to have been selling more rapidly this week with delivery often promised within days. They cost as little as £1.65 and often come with an identity card or pass holder.

NHS staff can currently access special shopping hours at several supermarket chains — often early in the day when the shelves are likely better stocked — while others are holding back supplies of sought after products, such as loo rolls and pasta, specifically for NHS staff. 

Most shops will require proof people are NHS workers before giving them access, but it is unlikely supermarket staff have time to check closely and the sight of a lanyard with some form of identity card would be enough.

A statement issued by eBay said: “For almost two months we have been introducing increasingly tougher measures against people who attempt to use eBay to exploit others — particularly in the current climate.

“We have removed these items and will take any necessary enforcement action against sellers who continue to try and list these sorts of items. Our monitoring and enforcement team, which has recently more than doubled in size, is working around the clock to block and remove listings like these, and we continue to work closely with authorities, including Trading Standards, to ensure our site remains a safe place to buy and sell.”

Amazon declined to comment, but HSJ understands it is removing the lanyards from its site.

NHS England chief nursing officer Ruth May said: “I welcome Amazon and eBay’s swift action in taking these fake NHS lanyards down — but it is very sad that there are chancers out there trying to make a quick buck off the back of the generosity shown towards our NHS staff.”

She added: “Being an NHS staff member is a huge honour, but it requires dedicating your career and much of your life to serving the public — even in the most difficult of circumstances, like the unprecedented global health threat we face today.”

Rachel Harrison, national officer at trade union GMB, said: “It’s an absolute disgrace these are being sold online and we would call on all internet retailers to immediately remove them.

“Any stock should be sent back to the NHS for distribution amongst health workers that don’t have any.”

The NHS logo and the letters “NHS” are trademarks, owned by the secretary of state for health and social care, and are protected by copyright.

According to NHSE’s website, suppliers of staff identification items and other NHS-branded products should only supply them to NHS organisations or those with a contract to provide NHS services, should be paid directly by these organisations for them and they cannot be held in stock.

The Department of Health and Social Care declined to comment.