Pharmacy chains playing a waiting game on reforms ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Wholesaler Tamro and associated chain pharmacy Benu is one of two major chains to adopt a wait-and-see attitude to three bills going to the Riigikogu next week. The bills challenge the government's planned pharma reforms.
Wholesaler Tamro and associated chain pharmacy Benu is one of two major chains to adopt a wait-and-see attitude to three bills going to the Riigikogu next week. The bills challenge the government's planned pharma reforms. Source: Priit Mürk / ERR

Major pharmacy chains in Estonia are waiting to see what happens with pharmacy reform, in particular a Riigikogu vote next week on no less than three rival bills which aim to amend the government's own reforms, Baltic News Service reports.

The reforms as they stand are due to take effect on April 1 and in their existing form would require dispensing pharmacists to own a minimum 51 percent-stake in the pharmacies they work in, shifting the control, at least nominally, in their favor and away from the large pharmacy wholesalers and their associated chains.

One option for pharmacists working in a chain pharmacy like Benu or Apotheka is to become a franchisee, though this depends on the decision by the chain owners, which as noted has not been made yet, in most cases.

As of Monday, two of the major pharmacy wholesalers in Estonia were undecided about what to do.

Pharma Holding OÜ, which runs the 74-outlet Südameapteek chain, says that franchising is on possibly option.

Risto Laur, manager at Pharma Holding, said the company is waiting until the Riigikogu's final decision, however.

Eleven of Südameapteek's retail pharmacies are already franchises, according to BNS.

"The franchise concept approved by the State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet) and the Competition Authority (Konkurentsiamet ) is being used successfully. We are glad to note that the numbers of pharmacists interested in franchise cooperation keeps growing," Laur said.

Leon Jankelevitsh, owner of the Benu pharmacy chain and manager of its associated wholesaler Tamro Baltics, told daily Postimees the company was also keeping an eye on the developments in the parliament and would make a decision when things were clearer.

There are 90 Benu pharmacies in Estonia.

An exception to this is Magnum Medical, the wholesaler which runs the Apotheka chain. Magnum's owner Margus Linnamäe already said he would be handing over control to the dispensing pharmacists come April 1. A franchise option might be available for those who choose to take it, Linnamäe said.

The Estonian Chamber of Pharmacists (EPK) and the Estonian Association of Pharmacists (EAL) say that the reforms and the requirements for compliance with them are on track. The two bodies, which represent dispensing pharmacists, support the government line, as sponsored by social affairs minister Tanel Kiik (Center) and in line with the Medicines Act of five years ago, which required the transition in ownership.

Widespread fears from opponents of the reforms, including another organization - the  Estonian Pharmacies Association (EAÜ), which represents the wholesalers - said that around half of Estonia's nearly 600 pharmacies would need to close on April 1, since they would not require with the ownership requirements.

Around 30 or so of these are currently transitioning, according to BNS; a further 187 pharmacies already comply with the regulations.

Further concerns surround the likelihood of the chains retaining control until literally the eleventh hour, I.e. 11.59 p.m. on March 31, with chaos ensuing at opening time on April 1. Some of the larger chains called a strike, really rather a lockout, in December, to highlight the effects of what might happen, particularly in smaller population centers served by fewer pharmacies.

Further concerns surround the likelihood of the chains retaining control until literally the eleventh hour, I.e. 11.59 p.m. on March 31, with chaos ensuing at opening time on April 1. Some of the larger chains called a strike, really rather a lockout, in December, to highlight the effects of what might happen, particularly in smaller population centers served by fewer pharmacies.

One of the SDE bills aims to soften the blow of the transfer in ownership, extending the deadline at least to the end of the year. The EKRE bill focuses more on restructure of management organization, as well as options for hospitals to run their own retail pharmacies, and to not be tied to Estonian wholesalers but to be able to import.

If all three bills are voted down at the Riigikogu- which would make that four bills (a bill aiming to return control in favor of the chains was defeated just before Christmas) to attempt to challenge the government line, the reforms stay in place on April 1.

Editor: Andrew Whyte

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