Amendments to the law governing the operation of pharmacies have been submitted, aimed at boosting provision of services in rural areas, including financially, after the current regime was found to be lacking.
The Ministry of Social Affairs submitted the amendments to the Riigikogu Monday, which would change regulations in force since the beginning of 2015 which provided for support for pharmacies in more remote areas, but which has only ever received one application, and that one unsuccessfully.
Support will be raised to a €15,000 grant after three years in operation, or €25,000 after five years. The previous level had been €15,000 after three years, and the time-frame a pharmacy could apply for the support after the beginning of operation was shorter.
Karin Alamaa-Aas, board chair of the Estonian Chamber of Pharmacists (EPK), representing dispensing pharmacists, welcomed the changes
"Support is needed, it provides an opportunity to find pharmacists in rural areas. In my opinion, there is a work force in Lihula and Pärnu-Jaagupi (both small towns in Pärnu County with populations of between 1,000 and 2,500 – ed.), but only recently did Lihula actually start looking for additional staffing after a long period, meaning many people might be lost who would otherwise work [in the field], but this life change requires funds," she said.
Pharmacy reforms introduced in April, which theoretically passed control of a pharmacy to the qualified, dispensing pharmacists and away from wholesalers dominating the market, met with fears that it would lead to widespread closure of pharmacies in smaller towns and rural areas, though in the event only a few outlets have shut up shop so far.
The ministry said the main aims of the legal change was to motivate pharmacists to apply for support, and to make it more flexible.
"We want to make the conditions of the initial support more flexible via the changes, because so far they have probably not been feasible in practice and people have not been motivated to apply for this support," Eda Lopatu, head of the Ministry of Social Affairs' pharmaceutical department, told ERR.
"For example, there is a desire to change the length of application for a starting grant. Whereas a pharmacist who is currently employed can apply for the allowance within three months, in the future this period could be one year. The desire to expand the scope of beneficiaries is also there; I.e. in the future support could be available to those pharmacists/ies who have more than five years's experience since acquiring the profession."
Lopatu noted that the development would also encourage less experienced pharmacists to pursue a career in the sector.
The bill would amend the Medicines Act and the Health Insurance Act, and has so far been submitted to the Riigikogu's Social Affairs Committee, with a view to being voted on later.
Editor: Andrew Whyte