452 pharmacies compliant with reform on eve of law coming into effect ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

An Apotheka pharmacy at Tartu University Hospital (TÜK).
An Apotheka pharmacy at Tartu University Hospital (TÜK). Source: Aili Vahtla/ERR

452 pharmacies in Estonia are compliant with the requirements of government pharmacy reform due to come into effect from April 1, with 18 pharmacies still not meeting the requirements, the State Agency of Medicines (Raviamet) said Monday.

"Whereas as recently as a few months ago we still had over 300 non-compliant pharmacies and quite a few critical regions where continuation of the pharmacy service was uncertain, the picture today is totally different. We have 452 pharmacies which are compliant with the law, and there will be more after today's decisions," medicines agency head of communication Kristi Sarap told BNS on Monday.

"All those pharmacies which plan to discontinue the provision of pharmacy service are listed on our website. Eight proceedings are ongoing, and there are a few whose status is uncertain. We will communicate with these today and tomorrow," Sarap added.

The reforms place ownership of pharmacies in the hands of dispensing pharmacists who work in them, with a minimum 51 percent stake required, and date back five years to the passing of the Medicinal Products Act.

While the reforms met several challenges in the Riigikogu in late 2019 and early 2020 via bills which either aimed to reverse or alter the law, these were all voted down.

Apotheka losing four pharmacies

One of the three major pharmacy chains in the country, Apotheka/Tere Pere Apteek, owned by Magnum Medical pharmaceuticals wholesaler, will see four closures of its chain outlets from Wednesday, the company says.

"Therefore, from April 1, pharmacies of the Apotheka brand will number 162 across Estonia," Marika Pensa, head of franchise at Terve Pere Apteek OÜ, told BNS. Seventy-five of these will be Terve Pere Apteek pharmacies, Pensa said.

The chain was one of the most vocal in opposition to the reforms, which critics said would lead to the disappearance of pharmacy services in smaller population centers. Magnum Medical's owner, Margus Linnamäe, said early on in the year that he would be seeking damages from the state over the law change and new ownership requirements.

"There has been much confusion regarding the pharmacy reform as well as divergent signals about the necessity thereof until the very last moment. Switching to the reform has brought an additional burden for the new owners and it has definitely not been an easy time for pharmacists," Marika Pensa went on.

Pensa added that the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic had complicated matters.

Pharmacies, including those working in shopping malls, the bulk of whose stores are closed under emergency restrictions in the wake of the pandemic, are continuing to work, though over-the-counter medicines are cordoned off and have to be requested by customers. Limits are placed on the volumes of over-the-counter medicines which can be bought, with a maximum of two packs etc. permissible per purchase.

The reforms come into effect from Wednesday, April 1.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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