Coalition decides to dismantle pharmacy reform bill

A pharmacy in Estonia (picture is illustrative).
A pharmacy in Estonia (picture is illustrative). Source: ERR

A bill aimed at reforming the pharmacy sector in Estonia looks set to be scrapped, ERR reports.

The bill, which if it passed would have become law next April, was aimed at placing control of the sector into the hands of individual pharmacists, rather than larger pharmacy chains. However, following opposition from lobby groups, it foundered.

Now a coalition working group has agreed that the bill is to be dismantled, with exact changes to be formulated by the government next week at the latest.

Chair of the Riigikogu's Social Affairs Committee Tõnis Mölder (Centre) said following a meeting of the coalition working group Monday morning that there was common ground between the three coalition parties – Centre, the Conservative People's Party of Estonia (EKRE) and Isamaa, adding it was too early to elaborate.

"We are still in the process of finalizing [the agreement], but most likely it will lead to a change in the law. Everyone is keen to start pharmacy reform, but in what form and how the next few hours, coming days, and coming weeks will clarify," Mölder said, ERR reports.

Pharmacists and the Ministry of Social Affairs have expressed support for the planned reform as provided for in the bill on medicines from April 1 next year, but the government coalition is moving in the opposite direction.

"It seems to me that any kind of deregulation is about to be a working version, but what form it will finally take is very difficult to say. Our expectation and hope was that the current pharmacies and pharmacists would agree something, but as we saw, they have not. We have now reached the important point where politicians are trying to reach an agreement," Mölder said.

Mölder added that meetings and discussions with the various parties are taking place every day, but since the Riigikogu has now been a week without sessions, a fundamental decision is likely next week.

The reforms as proposed by the Ministry of Social Affairs, Tanel Kiik (Centre), would have made it a requirement that pharmacies only be operated by practicing pharmacists, rather than large chains.

Critics say the law would mean around 300 current pharmacies would have to close, as they don't meet the new requirements, with 80 of these being in rural areas.

According to ERR, as of September this year, Estonia had just 175 pharmacies owned by pharmacists that meet the requirements for the reform, while most still cooperate with chains based on a franchise contract.

There could be as few as 15 pharmacies that actually qualify as completely independent; these are run by just eight pharmacists, according to ERR analysis. Even the State Agency of Medicines does not have the full picture, it is reported.

The proposed law would have defined pharmacist-run drugstores as those where a person trained as a pharmacist holds at least a 51-percent stake. Pharmacies where pharmacists have a smaller stake or none at all – for example, those run but not owned by pharmacists – would not have met the reform criteria.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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