Pharmaceutical distribution in Central Europe in 2011: liberalisation of non-pharmacy and online sales


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Pharmaceutical distribution has been liberalised further in Central Europe in 2011, with Bulgaria making the online sale of medicines legal in March. Non-pharmacy sale of OTC medicines may be still allowed in 2011 in Slovakia, which quite recently, i.e. in December 2009, liberalised online sale of pharmaceuticals. Conversely, Hungary and Romania have introduced more restrictive rules on the opening of new pharmacies, according to the latest report from PMR, a research and consulting company, entitled “Distribution on the pharmaceutical market in Central Europe 2011. Comparative analysis of Poland, Hungary, Romania, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Bulgaria”.


Online sales allowed in Bulgaria

In March 2011 an amendment to the Consumer Protection Law came into force which finally resolved the matter of online sales in Bulgaria. This changed article 51, and, specifically, the edict which had previously stated that “The distance sale of medicines is forbidden”. It now states, instead: “The distance sale of Rx medicines is forbidden”. In Bulgaria there had been a legislative contradiction between the Medicinal Products Act (which explicitly forbade the online sale of Rx drugs while not explicitly forbidding the online sale of OTC drugs, and thus implicitly allowing this) and the Consumer Protection Law, which prohibited such sales.

After the legal changes in Bulgaria came into force, Romania remained the only Central European country without clear regulations pertaining to online sales. However, as was the case in Bulgaria, because online sales are not expressly banned, they do take place in Romania. “This may, however, change in the near future, as the Romanian government is planning to ban internet sales of medicines by community pharmacies (by means of a draft amendment to the Pharmacy Law presented at the end of 2010)” says Monika Stefanczyk, PMR Head Pharmaceutical Market Analyst and the report co-author.

In Poland and the Czech Republic the online sale of all OTC medicines is allowed, whereas in Slovakia only OTC drugs which are not reimbursed by the public healthcare system can be sold online. In Hungary a limited number of OTC drugs may be sold online.


Liberalisation of Slovak non-pharmacy sales?

Non-pharmacy sale regulations also differ between Central European countries. At present, Slovakia is the only country which does not allow such sales. This might, however, change in the near future, because a proposal included in Slovakia’s 2011 National Reform Programme, suggests that OTC medicines in Slovakia may be sold at places other than pharmacies. “The Slovak government believes that the changes could open the Slovak medicine market, increasing competitive pressure on the prices of drugs and improving their overall availability” says Agnieszka Stawarska, PMR Pharmaceutical Market Analyst and the report co-author. The National Reform Programme will be implemented by the Slovak ruling coalition in various areas before the new parliamentary elections in 2014. The non-pharmacy sale regulations could come into force as early as October 2011.

In Bulgaria and Romania the only non-pharmacy outlets at which all OTC medicines can be sold are drugstores, whereas in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary a limited number of OTC drugs can be sold at all non-pharmacy outlets, if they meet certain conditions.


Hungary and Romania keep restrictions on establishment of pharmacies

Romania has decided to keep the restrictions on the opening of new pharmacies, which were to have been abolished in 2011, for another year. They will now be in force until 2012. New legislation approved by the Romanian government at the end of 2010 stipulates that between now and 2012 one new pharmacy in Romania can be opened for every 3,000 citizens in Bucharest, for 3,500 in cities which are county capitals and for 4,000 in other parts of Romania.

The opening of new pharmacies in Hungary was prohibited in the second half of July 2010, with the exception of towns which do not have a pharmacy at the moment. The temporary moratorium ended on 1 January 2011, when new, more restrictive, rules on the opening and operation of pharmacies came into force. These include demographic and geographical restrictions on the establishment of a pharmacy and regulations pertaining to pharmacy ownership (at existing pharmacies the stake owned by pharmacists must reach 51% by 1 January 2017).

For further information check PMR report: Distribution on the pharmaceutical market in Central Europe 2011

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