Last year, around a fifth of the medicines intended for supply to patients in the Czech Republic were sold abroad, officials have said.

Around 16 billion koruna-worth of medicines intended for Czech patients ended up overseas in 2010, and as a result some products were not available to domestic users, according to the State Institute for Drug Control (SUKL).

Parallel exporting from the Republic is not illegal, but exporters must have a license to conduct the trade. With drug prices and insurers' payments continually falling, and the majority of medicines costing less in the Republic than in other European Union (EU) countries, a number of distributors as well as pharmacies with export certificates now earn their living mainly by exporting medicines instead of supplying them to Czech patients, commented SUKL director Martin Benes.

The Institute, which is now registering all parallel imports, also says that the value of the domestic market in 2010 was the same as the year before. 

"We know from the movement of medicines in the market that patients were treated for less money with a bigger number of medicines and with more modern ones, which means that more patients were treated for the same volume of money as in 2009," CTK reports Mr Benes as saying.

Meantime, Czech President Vaclav Klaus has this month ratified the first of a package of health reform bills, which aim to make total savings of some 5.4 billion koruna. Among the measures to be introduced from next January 1 are: 

- withdrawal of reimbursement on products costing up to 50 koruna; 

- a change to the system of fixed co-payments made by patients for prescription drugs, who will now pay 30 koruna per prescription instead of 30 koruna per prescription item; 

- doctors to be encouraged to prescribe products which do not carry higher patient co-payments; and 

- a system of electronic tendering for reimbursed products which will award 100% reimbursement to those which tender successfully while their competitors will be reimbursed at 75%.