The Spanish Competition Authority strikes the pharmacy sector again

Written on 18 Nov 2015

The Spanish Competition Agency has launched a package of recommendations to liberalise the retail drugs market after a thorough sector analysis.

In October, the Spanish Competition Agency (known in Spanish as CNMC) published a new study regarding the effective competition in the retail drugs market. The conclusions of this study advocate for a broaden liberalization of pharmacies. The debate was first opened in 1995 by the President of the Competition Tribunal, Mr. Amadeo Petitbó, and fuelled in 1997, when a number of drugstores of Barcelona decided not to comply with certain resolutions adopted by the Competition Tribunal.

Among other proposals by the CNMC, the following are worth noting: to reduce the minimum distance between drugstores, to allow drugstores to advertise, so they can “use publicity to make a distinction of their services”, and to eliminate compulsory membership to practice the chemistry. In addition, the recommendations that have prompted a great deal of debate among the professional associations of pharmacists are firstly that these establishments which “fulfil certain health requirements” (without any further specification) will be allowed to sale over-the-counter medicines; and secondly, that wholesale distributors will be allowed to obtain the license to open a pharmacy.

The Government response to the CNMC’s recommendations did not take long. A few hours after the study was made public, the Ministry of Health published a press release in defence of the current model which has “been in place for decades in our country” and “has guaranteed the professionalism of pharmacists and the provision of the highest quality pharmaceutical care to patients above all other concerns”.

A comparative study carried out with other European countries appears to suggest that the participation of wholesale distributors increases when there is an easing of the regulation of the retail market. Therefore, there are few doubts that if the measures proposed by the CNMC are finally implemented in the market, the pharmaceutical industry will have no choice but to re-evaluate and adjust its promotion and commercialization strategies in the domestic market.