Estonia needs to move forward with its planned pharmacy reform, Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Centre) said, adding that drug wholesalers have been watching and waiting to see whether laws in Estonia will change or not, and whether they need to make any ownership-related changes.
The latest, coalition-initiated bill, which would have reversed the planned pharmacy reform, was defeated 50-46 in the Riigikogu earlier on Tuesday.
In an appearance on ETV news broadcast Aktuaalne kaamera that night, Kiik said that moving forward with the planned pharmacy reform is the right thing to do, and expressed hope that the majority of the 101-seat Riigikogu shares this position.
He explained that the Ministry of Social Affairs in cooperation with the State Agency of Medicines has mapped out areas where certain transitional issues may crop up as the planned reform enters into force and thus would need addressing within the next three months.
"We can see that 77 percent of Estonian towns and villages are currently actually already covered by necessary pharmacies, meaning that we need to address the just under quarter where it is crucial to find a pharmacy that meets pharmacist ownership requirements," he added.
Kiik noted that the ministry will be submitting proposals to the Social Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu which provide for the step-by-step implementation of the nationwide pharmacy reform.
"In order to ensure a smooth transition," he stressed. "That the opportunity wouldn't even present itself for anyone to scare people about 300 pharmacies being shut down or anything like that, which I personally don't find likely to happen anyway. But the truth is that this fear has been sufficiently injected both into public opinion and among politicians."
According to the minister, some 200 pharmacies currently meet all requirements that would be imposed by the reform; another 300 or so need work to a greater or lesser extent in order to bring them into compliance with pharmacist ownership requirements.
"I find that we've been playing poker, in a sense, on the market — sitting around as wholesalers, the owners of large [pharmacy] chains have waited to see whether laws in Estonia would be changed or not, and whether they need to make any ownership-related changes," Kiik said. "That is why that overall number has been moving slowly toward improvement. But if we send the signal that we will now start transitioning one stage at a time, and they have interim deadlines, then the market will certainly begin to react as well, because otherwise pharmacists will just come and establish new pharmacies, and one way or another, the market share will transition to pharmacist-owned pharmacies anyway."
Editor: Aili Vahtla