Legal
24 January 2024

New rules for the distribution of pharmacies

by Mireille Degezelle

From 1 December 2021, new distribution rules apply to pharmacies. The new regulation lays down objective and more transparent rules for the distribution of pharmacies. Until 7 December 2024, it will not be possible to submit an application to open a new pharmacy. Of course, a pharmacy can still be transferred in one of the following ways.

1. Transfer to a place in close proximity

The term 'close proximity' is defined in the Royal Decree.

Firstly, a transfer within a radius of 100 metres remains a transfer in close proximity. Previously, a permit was sometimes granted for a transfer outside the 100 metre radius. This is no longer possible under the new definition.

There is also the 25% rule. This is a transfer in the proximity of the existing site where the distance to surrounding pharmacies is not reduced by more than 25%. How to determine the area within which a transfer can take place is described in the RD.

There is no protective perimeter for a transfer in close proximity.

2. Transfer outside the immediate area

This is possible if:

  • The maximum number of pharmacies in the target municipality has not yet been reached. This limit is calculated by dividing the number of inhabitants by 5,000.

    A transfer is also possible if the target community does not yet have a pharmacy, regardless of the number of inhabitants.

  • There is a 'need' for a pharmacy.

    A transfer is possible if the pharmacy in the new location will meet the needs of at least 2,500, 2,000 or 1,500 inhabitants, depending on whether the nearest pharmacy is at least 1, 3 or 5 km away.

    As a result, there may be more pharmacies in a municipality than the maximum number allowed by the population/5,000 ratio.

  • There is a merger between pharmacies, combined with a transfer of the merged pharmacy.

    This is a novelty introduced to encourage mergers between pharmacies where one pharmacy closes permanently.

Unlike the classic merger, the latter option does not impose any distance restriction between pharmacies. A pharmacy on the coast can easily merge with a pharmacy in Antwerp. Even a temporarily closed pharmacy can be merged and/or transferred.

The remaining pharmacy may be relocated within 3 km of either pharmacy but must remain outside a radius of 100, 500 or 1,000 metres from other pharmacies, depending on whether the population in the municipality is more than 30,000, between 7,500 and 30,000 or less than 7,500. At least 1 pharmacy must also remain in the municipality.

An important advantage for transfers outside the immediate proximity is the protection perimeter of 1.5 km for a period of 2 years. This perimeter therefore also applies in the case of mergers combined with transfers, which do not qualify as mergers but as transfers. However, transfers in close proximity and temporary transfers always remain possible within this perimeter.

Read more below the image.

Pharmacy

In addition to the transfer, the traditional merger between two pharmacies in the same or neighbouring municipality is still possible.

An important change to the traditional merger is the protection perimeter, which is no longer 1.5 km as standard, but depends on the number of inhabitants. The perimeter is 500 metres, 1 km or 1.5 km, depending on whether the municipality has a population of more than 30,000, between 7,500 and 30,000 or less than 7,500. The period of protection remains 10 years.

Another innovation is that, in order to avoid dormant pharmacies, the maximum period of temporary closure of a pharmacy (more than 60 days) has been limited to an absolute maximum of 3 years. A temporarily closed pharmacy remains a pharmacy and continues to count for the calculation of the sphere of influence, the maximum number of pharmacies in the municipality, the application of the 25% rule ...

Comments may be submitted to the FAMHP at any time against the application for a transfer or merger licence. This must be done by registered letter within 30 days of the publication of the application on the FAMHP website. The comments will be communicated to the applicant.

Since the introduction of the new rules, each pharmacist has been responsible for monitoring applications for transfers or mergers in their area. These applications (with date of publication) are included in the 'list of recent transfers' which can be found on the FAMHP website, on the 'pharmacies open to the public' page.

So our message is to be alert!

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Mireille Degezelle

Senior Advisor Legal
mireille.degezelle@vdl.be

Disclaimer
In our opinions, we rely on current legislation, interpretations and legal doctrine. This does not prevent the administration from disputing them or from changing existing interpretations.


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