Court upholds ban on Germany’s pharmacy vending machines

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DPA/The Local - [email protected]
Court upholds ban on Germany’s pharmacy vending machines
The video-linked automated pharmacy at the centre of the dispute. Picture: DPA

Authorities shut down a pharmacy vending machine opened by Dutch pharmacy chain Doc Morris in a small town in southwestern Germany, saying the video-operated machine was inconsistent with German law.


The nationwide ban was upheld, with the court agreeing that the vending machine was in breach of established German law. 

The vending machine had been set up in Hüffenhardt, in Baden-Württemberg, after the local pharmacy closed down - leaving the town's 2000 residents without access to medications. 

The machine was stocked with a range of medications which would be dispensed after a video consultation with a pharmacist in the Netherlands. 

In April 2017 - only two days after the machine was set up - it was shut down by the Karlsruhe Regional Council. 

After an appeal was launched, the Mosbach District Court upheld the ban in April 2019. 

The establishment of the vending machine was said to violate a number of German laws, specifically that medicines may only be provided directly by pharmacists to customers and that the machines establish an anti-competitive practice. 

The Higher Regional Court of Karlsruhe on Wednesday affirmed the original decision of the court. 

Four years without a pharmacy

Hüffenhardt’s only pharmacy closed in 2015, with the town unable to generate enough business to keep it afloat. 

People wishing to acquire medications or pharmacy advice were then required to drive to the town of Haßmersheim. Hüffenhardt’s mayor Walter Neff told DPA that this was difficult, particularly for many of the town’s older residents. 

“The nearest pharmacy is in Haßmersheim - about six kilometres away”, Neff said. 

Neff told DPA that the automated vending machines were the perfect solution for smaller towns in Germany where residents were simply unable to access a pharmacist. 

“It could be run as a pilot project,” he said. 

'Gaining a competitive advantage at the expense of drug safety'

Health officials have criticized the automated pharmacy, saying that Doc Morris’ altruistic claims are instead driven by a profit motive. 

Valentin Saalfrank of the Medical Law Working Group of the German Bar Association said that there’s more than 500,000 hospital emergency room admissions each year due to avoidable medication errors. 

Saalfrank told DPA that medications should only be provided on a one-on-one basis, rather than via an automated machine operated from another country. 

“It’s obvious that what’s happening in Hüffenhardt - dispensing of pharmacy-only medicines by means of shipping - shouldn’t be happening.” 

Saalfrank said that Doc Morris was “gaining a competitive advantage at the expense of drug safety” by setting up the vending machines. 


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