Pharmacy chain loses court bid

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(File photo) A pharmacist selects drugs.

Pretoria - The strict rules for pharmacies operating from supermarket chain stores are here to stay, the Pretoria High Court has ruled.

Judge Peter Mabuse turned down an application by Medirite Ltd – operating 129 pharmacies in Checkers, Shoprite and Checkers Hyper supermarkets across the country – to overturn the new amended rules promulgated by the SA Pharmacy Council.

These were published last year in the Government Gazette.

Before the amendments, the rules pertaining to good pharmacy practice merely included “the pharmacy premises must be clearly demarcated and identified from the premises of any other business or practice”.

The amended rules – which are binding on all pharmacies run in supermarkets and not only Checkers – are stricter.

The demarcation must be permanent, solid and closed at all times and made up of bricks, steel, glass, dry walling or wood partitioning.

The demarcation must be from the floor to ceiling height and must enclose all areas attached to the pharmacy, such as the waiting area and the clinic.

There must also be a point of entry and exit.

Medirite told the court that the amendment threatened the viability of its business model.

Also, that it was irrational and that the council did not have the power to make these new rules.

It said the new rules imposed mandatory physical changes that would cost it millions to construct.

“If the new demarcation rules were to stand, it would have a radical and prejudicial impact on the applicant, its employees and the provision of pharmacy services to the public.

“To bring existing pharmacies in line with the new rules, the applicant will, in respect to each of its pharmacies, have to erect a box-like construction, enclosing the various components of the pharmacy, with a single entrance and exit,” Judge Mabuse was told.

This would cost about R26 million and threaten the viability of a company that is already operating at extremely low margins, Medirite said.

The company also complained that the “box” would physically separate the pharmacy from the shop floor. It would deprive customers of direct access to the pharmacy counter and waiting area.

“This would act as a severe disincentive to the public to use the pharmacy as part of their grocery shopping trip,” the judge was told.

Judge Mabuse commented that the pharmacy council is vested with the muscle to make rules as to what constitutes good pharmacy practice.

The council said it had to amend the rules as it had identified a number of problems from the inadequate demarcation of pharmacies operating within other businesses such as supermarkets.

These pharmacies were in the past simply demarcated by a painted white line, but this is no longer sufficient.

The problem was that the public could not distinguish the pharmacy from the supermarket.

It was submitted on behalf of the council that it had to determine the goods and services that a pharmacy was permitted to render.

This concern arose from a situation where a certain pharmacy sold, among others, lawnmowers.

The council said it was important to clearly determine which portion was under the control of the supermarket and which was under the control of the council.

Judge Mabuse said he was satisfied that the amendment was reasonable.

The appeal could thus not succeed, he ruled. - Pretoria News

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