Social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Centre) says that while pharmacy reform may have been five years in the making only for actual action to happen towards the end of that period, during the bulk of that time the relevant ministry was under the Social Democratic Party's (SDE) control.
Kiik was responding to criticism from MP Heljo Pikhof (SDE) regarding the length of time the reforms, the first draft of which were scrapped by the government only for its replacement to fail a vote at the Riigikogu on Tuesday.
"As for the ministry's work, I must say this issue seems to be directed at the wrong person. Not because I want to reduce my responsibility to any extent at all. However, I also know that the past four years, it was after all a representative of SDE who led the ministry. Perhaps over the course of these four years, you could ask, where were the proposals?" Kiik said at the Riigikogu on Wednesday, according to ERR's online news in Estonian.
Amendments to the Medicines Act were passed by the Riigikogu in 2014 and 2015. Between April 9, 2015 and April 29, 2019, the position of Minister of Health and Labor was held by SDE members - Rannar Vassiljev, Jevgeni Ossinovski and Riina Sikkut respectively. Riina Sikkut is now an SDE MP and was one of the Riigikogu members who brought the successful motion to overturn the latest version of pharmacy reform.
Kiik said that with hindsight, it would have been right to set clear milestones and deadlines during the period 2014-2015, with dates to be announced for changes in pharmacy ownership, the deadline when the switch would be made etc.
The current round of pharmacy reform foundered on opposition from lobby groups representing the larger wholesaler and pharmacy chains to placing the ownership of all pharmacies into the hands of dispensing pharmacists themselves, with a minimum 51 percent stake in ownership.
Critics said this would decimate the sector in smaller towns and rural areas.
A separate but related issue has been the question of whether to permit the sale of over-the-counter medicines such as ibuprofen, aspiring etc. in non-pharmacy sales outlets such as kiosks and gas stations.
"Indeed, when the 2014-2015 reforms were adopted, the pace of change in the market was relatively slow," Kiik continued.
"I think the reason for this has largely been the absence of interim stages, intermediate deadlines and implementing acts. Neither during the previous Parliament nor one before it. During this time, there has been a situation where all market players, especially wholesalers and their pharmacy chains, have had the opportunity to operate unhindered down to today's deadline," Kiik added, saying he had worked intensively on the issue in the eight months he has been minister.
Editor: Andrew Whyte