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Chairman for the Association of Danish Pharmacies in frantic defence of obsolete monopoly

Competition will improve service – legal requirements will safeguard patient safety

By Henrik Engberg Johannsen, Information Manager at Matas

It is somewhat understandable that a monopolist will attempt to hang on to his monopoly however feeble his case. Thus, the letter to the editor written by Niels Kristensen in the November 1 edition of Politiken comes as no surprise. In the letter he claims that allowing anyone other than pharmacists to own pharmacies would be irresponsible, because apparently only people specifically holding a degree in pharmacy are capable of complying with the laws deemed relevant and responsible by politicians.

The argumentation for having a link between education and ownership is unclear, but the trust that the Chairman for the Association of Danish Pharmacies vests in politicians’ judgment and ability to see through the monopoly’s agenda must be interpreted as somewhat limited. In our opinion the Chairman should recognise that politicians set the rules for accessibility to medicine, medicinal safety and pricing, and that compliance with these rules is the sole determinant of one’s qualifications to manage and own a pharmacy.

In the 30 October Politiken Kjeld Møller Pedersen, Professor of Health Economics, was also quoted as saying ‘In Denmark we have discussed whether a person should be a qualified pharmacist to own a pharmacy. The answer was yes. In reality, however, this requirement is obsolete... More important are the requirements regarding the personnel charged with serving customers; whether an owner is an equity fund is, in reality’ irrelevant. Matas, which wholeheartedly agrees, has repeatedly stressed the importance of complying with legislation if the monopoly is abolished, stating that only pharmaconomists and pharmacists may fill prescriptions and provide expert advice on medicine. Similarly, legislation must set the standards for the range of products that pharmacies may carry in future, and these rules must be followed regardless of who owns the pharmacy.

The Danish Health and Medicines Authority’s unscheduled control shows that Matas is conspicuously better at observing the regulations governing over-the-counter medicine sales (the legislation for which was liberalised in 2001)  than pharmacies. This shows that politicians need only pose the legislative requirements associated with liberalising the pharmacy sector and those will be met with compliance.

Unprecedented exclusion of pharmacist  

With its new pharmacy act of 1 July the Danish Parliament has attempted to intensify competition between the current pharmacies. Pharmacists’ fervent pursuit of protecting their businesses and avoiding competition has now lead Denmark’s largest pharmacy chain to exclude Uldum Pharmacy, a pharmacy that was only meeting politicians’ desire to establish medicine dispensing points throughout Denmark. The pharmacy monopoly has exerted pressure on its own members to hinder potential competition, which is essential when it comes to improving customer service, increasing the number of pharmacies and thereby reducing costs related to medicine distribution.

More pharmacies in Norway and Sweden

While the number of pharmacies has increased dramatically in both Sweden and Norway since the pharmacy sector was liberalised, the number of locations from which Danes can pick up prescription medicine has fallen by 16% over the last 10 years. Matas wants to help address this imbalance, also in sparsely populated areas. All families in Denmark shop at Matas, and we wish to provide them with the opportunity to pick up their medicine both conveniently and responsibly.

We believe that politicians in their ongoing analysis of the pharmacy sector will conclude that they can safely abolish an obsolete monopoly – for the benefit of both consumers and the general economy. Matas, while maintaining its great respect for the necessity of having pharmacy professionals, wishes to contribute to a liberalised pharmacy sector and is ready to honour any and all requirements politicians deem appropriate.

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