On Thursday, the Competition Authority recommended extending the sale of non-prescription drugs such as common painkillers, hay fever remedies and cold and flu medication to parapharmacies and mass distribution centres such as supermarkets.
The Authority stressed that such a development should take place in dedicated spaces within supermarkets, with the “mandatory and continuous presence of a responsible pharmacist”, according to the Authority.
Health Minister Agnes Buzyn leaving the weekly cabinet meeting at the Elysees Palace on March 27th 2019. Photo: AFP
But Buzyn said she considered that such a reform could weaken the network of pharmacies in rural areas.
“I am not in favour of it,” the minister said in a radio interview on Europe 1. “When we talk about this, it implies weakening small pharmacies in rural areas, which are often the first resort for sick people, I think that would be a very bad idea and a very bad signal to give. We must support small local community industries.”
The minister, a doctor by profession, added that “considering that drugs can be bought like any other food consumption product, I find that problematic. There are always side effects when you take medication, it always requires advice and pharmacists are there to give advice, to guide people.”For the National Order of Pharmacists, such a reform would amount to “breaking a model that guarantees patient health safety”.
According to its president Carine Wolf-Thal speaking to Le Monde, the current system allows the population to “have access to safe and quality medicines and medical biology knowledge. Let us be careful not to jeopardize an organisation that has always known how to adapt and meet the expectations of the population!
“It guarantees the connection and expertise that the French need more than ever to respond to the difficulties of accessing healthcare services,” she says.
The Competition Authority also recommended making it more flexible for pharmacies to sell over-the-counter medicines online.
“We are examining this, because there is a demand, a need. We have a working group that meets with pharmacists,” responded Buzyn on Europe 1.
“But again, for me, the issue is safety,” she added. “We cannot buy everything on the internet, we must absolutely secure these purchases[…], pharmacists, especially local pharmacists, must be able to benefit from online sales and it must not be turn out to be to the detriment of this vital network and the work that pharmacists do on a daily basis for public health.”
The sale of over the counter medication in France is strictly controlled.
Pharmacies are the only places you can buy even simple products such as paracetamol or ibuprofen and you require a prescription for any codeine products, for example.