Today, social commission of the Riigikogu sits down to decide whether to impose temporary regulations for 1.5 years following the removal of limitations to opening new pharmacies, so as to curb mass establishing of pharmacies in towns and closure of those in the countryside.
Already, the commission has stripped the bill amending pharmacies order of the controversial ownership limit pursuant to which a pharmacy could only have been operated by a dispensing chemist, as well as the location limit allowing just one pharmacy in a building. The commission says the bill is urgent as on June 9th the Supreme Court judgement is entering into force, annulling the pharmacy-establishing restrictions which have applied for over nine years.
According to Estonian Association of Pharmacists board member Tanel Terase, none of the big players have tried to hide the aim to invest in cities and open up new pharmacies there, as soon as the limits are lifted.
«Thus, if – like during the time between the establishing limits were proclaimed and enforced – some 50 pharmacies are opened in cities, let’s say, then, considering the usually shorter open-hours of countryside pharmacies, in rural areas availability of the service would definitely be negatively affected,» he said. Mr Terase said entrepreneurs are now waiting for a clear message from the Riigikogu about what will be happening in the pharmacy sector i.e. will amount of pharmacies be restricted in areas of great demand.
Even so, the proposal tabled at social commission will not grant final clarity. Namely, they are talking about the option to impose a temporary regulation till the end of 2015, pursuant to which in larger local governments of over 4,000 inhabitants new pharmacies could only be opened as requested by the local government and as approved by State Agency of Medicines. The amendment would grant social ministry extra time to peacefully develop and discuss with persons concerned possible new limitation to enter info force at the end of next year.
Countryside gets different treatment
Already, the social commission has amended the bill by stating that pharmacy branches with reduced requirements may henceforth be established only in towns of under 4,000 inhabitants and in the countryside. To branches already open in cities, a five-year transitional period will be granted, during which the branches need to get their activities in line with requirements set to main pharmacies.
According to Estonian Pharmacists Union chairwoman Ülle Rebane, the union basically agrees that in the name of fair competition, only general pharmacies might be allowed in cities; also, she thinks the five year transition period allows for rearranging branches into general pharmacies. Even so, Ms Rebane advises the social commission to revise the population limit, and to allow new branch pharmacies only in towns with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, so as to protect the pharmacies of dispensing chemists already operating in small towns.
Mr Terase, however, thinks that as opposed to what is sought by the commission, the amendment would worsen geographical accessibility of pharmacy services, as the rearrangement of branch pharmacies will create a bigger need for dispensing chemists and in all probability these would be lured away from the countryside by offering better wages. The bill will probably come to Riigikogu next week, when both second and third readings thereof are scheduled.