Government softens on Apoteket monopoly

Some medicines could go on sale in supermarkets next year, Swedish health minister Ylva Johansson has said, signalling a softening of the government’s line on keeping the Apoteket monopoly.

In an interview with news agency TT, Johansson said that “certain non-prescription medicines should be allowed to be sold in shops,” rather than only in the state-owned Apoteket’s pharmacies.

Johansson said that nicotine replacement drugs, such as chewing gum and patches, should be made more widely available.

“I can’t see any reason why they should be in Apoteket,” she said.

The European Court ruled last month that the Apoteket monopoly was illegal, as it discriminated against pharmaceuticals from other EU countries. Sweden doesn’t import any over the counter medicines and overseas manufacturers currently have no right to know why they can’t sell to Sweden or to appeal decisions.

The government’s immediate reaction to the ruling was to say that there would be no major changes to Apoteket, but today’s comments may signal a willingness to compromise.

Johansson did not give further examples of medicines which she would be happy to see made more widely available.

The government has announced that a commission on Apoteket will be established in the autumn. One question it will look at is whether certain medicines could be sold outside the monopoly.

The commission will also examine whether public access to medicines can be improved by opening more Apoteket pharmacies, or by allowing Apoteket to run pharmacy counters in supermarkets.

But Johansson warned that while “availability of medicines is too poor today,” she didn’t want unrestricted sale of non-prescription pharmaceuticals. She cited safety concerns and fears that this would make state-run pharmacies in remote areas unviable.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Svenska DagbladetSR