The coalition government has completely abandoned a bill which would have reformed the pharmacy sector in Estonia, and will soon put forward a bill with new proposals.
The pharmacy reform bill, championed by the largest of the three coalition parties, Centre, and in particular its social affairs minister Tanel Kiik, was reportedly prepared and ready, but no consensus was found even within the party, meaning the bill was not even presented to the Riigikogu for voting.
The planned reforms had been slated for April 1 2020, but met with strong opposition from major pharmacy lobby groups in particular. The bill had aimed to place control of pharmacies firmly in the hands of qualified pharmacists, rather than chains; critics claimed that the reforms would have spelled the death knell for pharmacies in smaller towns and rural areas.
Additionally, research showed that in reality, very few pharmacies met the requirements of the proposed reforms.
The replacement bill would be virtually an about-turn on its predecessor, lifting the requirement for pharmacists to have a 51 percent stake or higher in an operating pharmacy and allowing others to have an ownership stake, stopping the bar on pharmacy chains owning outlets, as well as relaxing requirements for pharmacy branches.
The new draft bill is likely to be submitted by a pharmacy reform task force either at the end of this week, or the beginning of the next.
A distinct aspect to pharmacy reform, the full liberalization of the market which would allow over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, aspirin etc. to be sold at kiosks, gas stations etc., has not yet been decided on, ERR reports.
"The general attitude is still [one of] greater freedom. Pharmacies' activities are already very well regulated; there must be trained pharmacists at work, with very precise regulations," said Isamaa MP Siim Kiisler to ERR on Thursday.
"Certainly there should be freedom of ownership. A journalist could also inherit or own a company operating in the pharmacy market, why not?" Kiisler added, noting that he personally favored allowing over-the-counter drugs to be sold outside of pharmacies, though could not say if this was his party's position overall.
"There are [qualified] pharmacists at every pharmacy outlet, in any case. After all, no ordinary person today makes a distinction between who owns a pharmacy – whether it be a pharmacist or a large chain," Kiisler added.
"I have not yet met a person who makes the distinction. But what would change that?" he continued, noting the developments also represented a compromise between the three governing parties and their members.
Editor: Andrew Whyte