Estonian chain pharmacies closing their doors as part of a snap strike in protest against the pharmacy reform on Wednesday is extremely regrettable, Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik (Centre) said, and according to Director General of the Competition Authority (Konkurentsiamet) Mart Ots, the companies are walking on thin ice.
Apotheka, Benu, Euroapteek and Südameapteek, all members of pharmacy chain lobby group the Estonian Pharmacies Association (EAÜ), closed their pharmacies at immediate notice for the rest of the day at 2 p.m. on Wednesday in an effort to raise awareness of what they believe the country's pharmacy network would look like after the implementation of the planned pharmacy reform, principally the halving of the number of pharmacies nationwide, to about 200-250 outlets (from around 500 at present).
The Competition says pharmacies' move is an extreme measure.
"This is undoubtedly a regrettable incident, and it constitutes walking on thin ice in terms of the Competition Act. Concerted practices of any kind are unacceptable," Ots said at a press conference Wednesday, according to BNS.
Ots added that while a debate on pharmacy reform is needed, such an extreme measure should not be used.
Tanel Kiik called upon market participants to be guided in their activities by the interests of the people.
"Giving prior notice is good practice when it comes to going on strike," the minister said.
"I applaud all pharmacists, pharmacy owners and everyone else who have spoken out against this initiative," Kiik said. "Public health is not something to be played with or jeopardized."
The minister added that the Estonian Chamber of Pharmacists (Eesti Proviisorite Koda) representing the dispensing pharmacists, has said its members have signaled readiness to work longer hours on Wednesday if needed, to ease the situation.
"I have yet to see such a low way to pressure the government. This is a very regrettable day," Kiik said.
The State Agency of Medicines published a list (link in Estonian) on Wednesday afternoon of pharmacies that are expected to be open during Wednesday's closures.
Editor: Andrew Whyte