According to Timo Danilov, spokesperson of the Estonian Pharmacies Association (EAÜ), which represents chain pharmacies, people stocked up on so many medications in March that new pharmacy owners are having a hard time starting their businesses. "I have nothing to feel schadenfreude over; I wish the new owners good luck," Danilov said in an interview with ETV news broadcast "Aktuaalne kaamera."
Aktuaalne kaamera: How many pharmacies is Apotheka closing, and how many did you manage to find pharmacist owners for?
Timo Danilov: You need to ask Apotheka that directly; unfortunately I can't comment on Apotheka's matters. I have never worked for them; I am a member of the board at the Estonian Pharmacies Association.
AK: How many pharmacies are actually pharmacist-owned pharmacies, and how many are not exactly fake, but seemingly independent pharmacist-owned pharmacies that will in reality continue operating as chain pharmacies?
TD: I sincerely hope that all of these pharmacies that have cropped up over the past month and a half are pharmacist-owned pharmacies. When you call them fake pharmacies, you are directly undermining supporters of the [pharmacy] reform. I'd say that they are all now pharmacist-owned pharmacies.
AK: The EAÜ has always said that there aren't enough pharmacists in Estonia that would want to become business-owners. Where did these enterprising pharmacists appear from overnight?
TD: We have always said that there aren't enough pharmacists who would want to be business-owners and that also have the financial means to do so. Whether these pharmacies were transferred or formalized some other way somehow, it is clear that the pharmacists that became owners came from within pharmacy chains. This is entirely reasonable; they know these pharmacies, and finding them came by means of negotiations.
AK: Then all of this opposition to the pharmacy reform was for nothing, because practically no pharmacies are closing and pharmacist owners were found.
TD: The opposition certainly wasn't for nothing, because the reform is taking place purely for the sake of the reform itself. Yes, so it went that the pharmacy reform is being implemented. Why look to the past? We need to look toward the future. But drawing attention to all of these issues certainly wasn't in vain. People needed to know what this reform constituted.
AK: What were the main issues that you wanted to inform people about, and how have they been resolved?
TD: Estonia's pharmacy services have always been very high quality; only a very small handful of people see changes as necessary for some reason. Our pharmacy services will certainly remain very high quality, the new owners will certainly wholeheartedly make sure of that. As the sector is now fragmented, the pharmacy sector's cost base will certainly increase, and it is yet uncertain how this will impact drug prices and the sustainability of the pharmacy sector. This can be assessed after the fact.
AK: There was a lot of talk about how Estonia doesn't need that may pharmacies. As just about all of them will now remain, will we be seeing a huge wave of closures in a year, year and a half's time?
TD: Difficult to say. The coronavirus crisis came very unexpectedly for everyone, and pharmacies were hit with a huge wave of buying, just like in food commerce. In other words, the new owners with their new pharmacies will be heading into an economic situation in which people have stocked up a great deal from pharmacies. For another thing, consumer confidence will certainly dip very low, the economic environment will be unfavorable and coping with these pharmacies won't be easy.
AK: Do I detect a hint of schadenfreude in your voice?
TD: No. I have nothing to feel schadenfreude over; I wish the new owners good luck.
AK: Looking back, were any steps taken in opposition to the reform for nothing? For example closing all chain pharmacies, which demonstrated to many politicians that there were practically no independent pharmacies.
TD: The extraordinary closure of pharmacies garnered all kinds of feedback. Clearly the mainstream media condemned the move, but let it be. I'd say that it was necessary in that residence now have a better understanding of the value of the pharmacy network. As we said shortly after the closure, we were very sorry to do such a thing, and did so with a heavy heart, and also apologized for the inconvenience, but nonetheless the pharmacy network is of crucial importance and it is not worth thoughtlessly making large-scale changes to it like the pharmacy reform.
AK: Is the current coronavirus crisis God's blessing for wholesalers or are you sad, that you'd sell if only you had the drugs to sell?
TD: It is clear that some sectors, including the pharmacy wholesale sector, are currently facing a significant workload. But we can't call that God's blessing.
AK: Do wholesalers have sufficient inventory to last through the end of June, which is one possible end dates for the crisis?
TD: You'll need to ask wholesalers more precisely, but on the pharmacy side of things, I can say that pharmacies have increased their inventories, and they are not currently anticipating a significant increase in drug supply difficulties. But there are problems in Europe; we know that trade may be slower as well. The coronavirus crisis has not currently had any major effect on the availability of drugs.
Editor: Aili Vahtla