Public concern over the introduction of Poland's Reimbursement Act at the start of this year led to drug sales through pharmacies soaring 23.7% last December and then plummeting 24% in January, reports IMS Health.

The Act is wide-ranging legislation which fixes the prices of reimbursed medicines and the margins of wholesalers and pharmacies, among other measures, and last December, patients stocked up ahead of its introduction, due to concerns over anticipated co-payment increases and a revision of the reimbursed drug list which prohibits off-label prescribing. 

Their actions led to the sharp decline in sales reported for January, which reached as much as 35% during the first week of the month, says IMS Health.

Overall, the firm estimates that the Polish pharmaceutical market grew 3.7% in 2011 to around $7 billion 22.3 billion zloty, representing the same level of increase as it had reported for 2010. Against this stagnant performance, sales of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines increased 6.8% to just under 7.9 billion zloty last year, and IMS Health reports that companies which have mainly been active in the reimbursed medicines market are now looking closely at the less-controlled OTC market.

Meantime, the amendment to the Reimbursement Act passed in January by the Sejm (parliament) to address protests by prescribers and pharmacists is due to take effect tomorrow (January 9). The amendment abolishes the provision of the Act which would have made doctors financially liable for the full reimbursement amount paid by the National Health Fund (NFZ) for any prescription found by NFZ inspectors not to be in accordance with the Act, and gives pharmacies the right of appeal against financial penalties imposed on them by the Fund's inspectors for such "faulty" prescriptions. 

The amendment also grants an amnesty for doctors and pharmacists who issued or accepted such prescriptions between January 1 and its coming into force, and reduces the proposed requirement for doctors to indicate the level of reimbursement on prescriptions to only those treatments which are subject to more than one level of reimbursement, reports Pharma Poland News. 

Protests by doctors against the provisions had included refusal to prescribe NFZ-reimbursed medicines.