A bill seeking to amend the Medicines Act was submitted to the Riigikogu on Tuesday featuring changes introduced last week which abolish rules around pharmacy ownership which come into force in April 2020.
After months of discussion, the pharmacy reform working party has reached a consensus on a bill amending the Medicines Act, and submitted it to the Riigikogu on Tuesday morning. All major changes to the bill reported in the media last week remain in effect, i.e. the previous pharmacy reforms will be reversed.
The Bill on Medicines is intended to lift all major restrictions imposed by the pharmacy reform, which are due to enter into force in April next year.
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.
Research also showed that in reality, very few pharmacies met the requirements of the proposed reforms.
Priit Sibul (Isamaa), who handed over the bill on behalf of the coalition, said the bill will remove ownership restrictions and anyone, including drug wholesalers, could own a pharmacy.
Chain pharmacies will be given a transition period in larger cities with more than 20,000 residents, so that they can be converted into general pharmacies, whereas in smaller cities with more than 4,000 residents, they can continue as chain pharmacies.
Only full liberalization of the medicines market, meaning over-the-counter medicines being allowed for outlets like drugstores and filling stations, is not to be found in the new bill.
The Bill on Amendments to the Medicinal Products Act will now be discussed by the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu. Between first and second readings, amendments may be added by members, committees or political groups.
The replacement bill is a U-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.
Tõnis Mölder: We will prevent the possible closure of several hundred pharmacies
"We will preserve the pharmacy market in its current form, ensure the availability of medicines and prevent the possible closure of several hundred pharmacies," said Tõnis Mölder, Chairman of the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu.
"Although a five-year period was set to bring it into line with the requirements of the law, four months before it came into force, the legislator had not begun to work on the substance and the risks involved were materializing."
Mölder said the draft law would not enforce the restrictions, which would cause major problems with the availability of medicines and the functioning of the Estonian pharmacy market.
"It is clear that, as the reform will not take effect in the period prior to the mass purchase of pharmacies by pharmacists, this will result in a drastic reduction in the number of pharmacies under current law. This is a direct and serious risk in the context of the protection of public health as a fundamental right," he said.
He said the change prevents the risk that the current owners of the pharmacies will file claims against the state, which could amount to tens of millions of euros.
Mölder added the bill includes measures to ensure the availability of pharmacy services in smaller municipalities as well. "Representatives of local governments without a pharmacy have the right to send a request to the state, and if approved, existing chain pharmacies can be required to open a branch pharmacy," Mölder said.
Social Affairs Minister: Pharmacy reform is "important"
Speaking to ERR, Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Centre) the main instigator of the original reform, said he still believed in the initiative and the ministries and coalition will continue to work on the reforms.
He said: "I continue to regard the pharmacy reform initiated by the Riigikogu in 2014 and 2015 as an important and right initiative. I am convinced that these issues are also important to members of the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu and to the parliament as a whole."
Editor: Helen Wright