Medicine distribution

Many channels of medicine distribution

From the factory gate to the patient’s hand, the medicine passes through many steps.

There are two Finnish wholesalers specialised in medicine distribution, with operations covering the whole country. Wholesale distribution is based on the one-channel principle whereby the pharmacy or hospital can only purchase the pharmaceutical company’s products from one wholesaler.

The dispensing of medicines to consumers and patients takes place in a controlled and professional way:  

  • Pharmacies are responsible for the retail distribution of prescription-only and self-care medicines. Nicotine replacement medicines are an exception – they can also be sold by grocery stores. There are over 800 pharmacies in Finland, including subsidiary pharmacies and the pharmacies of the Helsinki and Kuopio Universities.
  • The hospital pharmacies or medicine dispensaries run by municipalities or consortia of municipalities often organise the medicine services for the public sector. Medicines can also be bought from a public sector or outpatient pharmacy. There are 24 hospital pharmacies and over 120 medicine dispensaries in the municipal, state and private sector.
  • The military pharmacy is in charge of the medicines supply to the Defence Forces, Border Guards and Peacekeeping Forces.
  • Vaccines included in the national vaccination programme are available free of charge from the healthcare system. Other vaccines are bought by the patients at their own expense from the pharmacy.   
  • Veterinary medicines go from the wholesalers either to the pharmacies or directly to the veterinary surgeons.

Availability of medicines

The pharmacy network covers all of Finland. Legislation seeks to ensure the access and availability of medicines also in the remote areas of the country.

The national medicines policy highlights the need to ensure the availability of medicines throughout the country, also under emergency circumstances. The tools to this end are the pharmaceutical emergency supply and obligatory storing systems.

The legislation provides which pharmaceutical substances are covered by the storage obligation and how large volumes - how many months' worth of consumption - of each pharmaceutical substance must be stored.

Obligatory storage applies to

  • pharmaceutical companies
  • importers of medicinal products
  • healthcare units.

Working under the Ministry of Employment and the Economy, the National Emergency Supply Agency pays the pharmaceutical companies compensation for the extra expenses incurred for the storage.