The Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee approved a bill to amend the Medicinal Products Act during an extraordinary sitting on Thursday to reverse Estonia's planned pharmacy reform set to enter into force from April 1. Neither the social minister nor representatives of the ministry were present for the sitting, with the Centre Party temporarily replacing a member of the committee for the vote.
The current reform plan prescribes a vertical integration ban, pharmacist owners restriction and abolition of branch pharmacies in cities with over 4,000 residents.
"Two-thirds of pharmacies do not meet requirements three months before the reform deadline. It is a major problem in terms of public health and availability of medicinal products," said committee chairman Tõnis Mölder (Centre).
The new 20,000 residents restriction for branch pharmacies still requires analysis and deliberation, Mölder said. "The aim of the authors of the bill was not to impact quality but give today's owners the chance to turn branch pharmacies into main pharmacies," he explained.
Deputy chairman of the committee Helmen Kütt (SDE) said that amending the Medicinal Products Act will deepen problems instead of solving them. "With this bill, we are sending the signal that it is not necessary to obey the law. The State Agency of Medicines has also found that even though changes will ensure formal availability of the service, its quality will suffer," she said.
Kütt described as unfortunate the fact that the chairman of the Riigikogu Social Affairs Committee had not invited the social minister or anyone from the ministry to the sitting who could have answered questions.
"The opposition's request for 20 days in which to present proposals to amend was rejected, which comes as a clear sign of the fact there will be no fundamental debate. The change will be executed using brute force, while actual problems, like the availability of pharmaceuticals and people's lives endangered as a result, were not discussed this week, despite my proposal to do so from Monday. A shame," Kütt said.
The Riigikogu group of the Centre Party replaced committee member Marika Tuus-Laul with Natalia Malleus before the extraordinary sitting.
"Someone else had my place in the social affairs committee this morning where it was decided whether it [the reform] would be changed or not," Tuus-Laul told Õhtuleht. "Basically, I couldn't go."
Tuus-Laul said she was evicted from the committee for a single sitting.
The bill to amend the Medicinal Products Act (118 SE) will come up for its first reading on December 17.
Editor: Marcus Turovski