Pharmacists to sue gov’t over pricing

NICOSIA (AFP) – Cypriot pharmacists plan to sue the government for «unfair and illegal» actions to cover a shortage in medicine they say is driving them to ruin, the head of the industry association said yesterday. The president of the private Pharmacists’ Association, Nicos Nouris, said his members are fed up with what they consider to be the ineptitude of the health ministry, which they blame for trampling over a slew of laws in a bid to cover a pharmaceutical drug shortage brought on by its own «flawed» pricing policy. «Our lawyers have advised us to seek legal recourse because the government is violating numerous laws and is exploiting its dominant role in the market to create unfair competition,» Nouris told AFP. A new drug pricing scheme that began on March 1 was intended to give Cypriots a break by slashing prices on commonly used medicines. But the scheme prompted shortages, as importers stopped bringing in pharmaceuticals on which they could not turn a profit. That hurt private pharmacists, who saw their revenues drop sharply and left the public rummaging through pharmacies for alternatives to the brand-name drugs they are accustomed to. One doctor said he had to prescribe cough medication that contains an active ingredient also used to help women in labor with their contractions because the drug normally used was not available. The government pledged to cover the shortfall by shopping around for drugs abroad and reselling them to pharmacies at cost, plus a small «administrative fee.» Nouris said the ministry’s buying and selling has made the government the island’s top pharmaceuticals merchant. To further offset the shortage, the government also pledged to allow private pharmacies to dispense subsidized drugs that patients could only get at state-run hospitals. But Nouris said the Health Ministry has so far reneged on that pledge and, in response, private pharmacies would stop buying state-imported drugs. Health Minister Andreas Gabrielides warned that this could create a great deal of hardship for patients, who would have to endure long queues to be given their medication from state-owned pharmacies. Nouris was unrepentant, saying pharmacists have few options left since the issue «has been admitted into intensive care.» Gabrielides said he regretted the development that came despite personal assurances that he would deal with the problem, while saying that would not be possible before the end of September. «I simply asked for some time but pharmacists are putting a knife to the ministry’s throat,» he said.

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