Authorities slam Apoteket prescription plans

Plans by Sweden's state-owned pharmacy, Apoteket, to start a joint venture with American prescription management company Medco have been slammed by the Swedish Competition Authority as a potential abuse of Apoteket's monopoly.

Apoteket’s plans, which have been widely reported in the press, come as the company looks set to lose its monopoly of the Swedish pharmacy market. The government wants to partially deregulate the sale of prescription drugs in 2009.

“If Apoteket’s board decides to create such a company it would mean that the company, protected by its legal monopoly and together with a private company, would be building up an infrastructure on which future competitors would be dependent to sell medicines to consumers,” Competition Authority director general Claes Norgren said in a statement on Wednesday.

Apoteket’s board is set to approve the deal with Medco on Tuesday. Media are reporting that the joint venture would handle computerised prescription management.

The Swedish Pharmacists’ Association and the Swedish Association of the Pharmaceutical Industry both criticized the plans when they became public in the spring.

Apoteket claims that the criticism is based on out-of-date information, something Swedish Pharmacists’ Association chairwoman Cecilia Bernsten says she doubts.

“It’s hardly likely that there have been any radical changes,” she said.

The Competition Authority agrees with opponents of the monopoly that Apoteket has major competitive advantages as deregulation approaches. These include its established network of outlets and other infrastructure, as well as its well-known brand.

“It is most urgent that the government creates good conditions for a well-functioning market as it opens up the market to competition,” said Norgren.


Pharmacy to launch plasters for darker skin

Swedish pharmacy chain Apoteket has told The Local it is hoping to offer a range of bandaids suitable for customers with darker skin tones by the end of the year as part of efforts to cut discrimination.

Pharmacy to launch plasters for darker skin
An Apoteket store in Stockholm. Photo: Roger Vikström/TT
The company, which has 370 stores across Sweden said it had come up with the idea after talking to a number of Swedish anti-racism charities.
“We're looking at whether it's possible to have different coloured plasters but we haven't made a final decision on it yet,” Communications Director Eva Fernvall told The Local on Wednesday.
“It won't happen by next week but we hope to have something in place by the end of the year,” she added.
Apoteket faced criticism earlier this week by a Swedish blogger who runs the website (which translates as 'Everyday Racism').
Paula Dahlberg told public broadcaster Sveriges Radio on Monday that the pharmacy giant was contributing to racism by only offering shades of beige plasters (also called bandaids in some countries) on its shelves.
But Fernvall insisted that the company's decision to trial darker products was made long before the writer made the comments.
“The fact she said that demonstrates that there are heated discussions about immigrants and refugees right now,” she said, adding that the national chemist chain was committed to reducing discrimination.
She admitted that the plaster plan was “unusual” and noted that she had “never heard of anything like this in any other countries”.
Debates around immigration have intensified over the last 12 months in Sweden, which currently takes in more asylum seekers per capita than any other EU nation.
The nationalist Sweden Democrat party is the third largest in parliament after winning 12.9 percent of the vote in elections in September 2014 and is continuing to gain public support.
Sweden's government has said it is committed to maintaining the nation's reputation for tolerance and offering help to refugees fleeing violence in the Middle East and Africa. But it has welcomed efforts by the European Commission to encourage other European Union member states to take in a greater share of asylum seekers.