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Thousands of French pharmacies expected to close on Thursday amid strike

Genevieve Mansfield / AFP
Genevieve Mansfield / AFP - [email protected]
Thousands of French pharmacies expected to close on Thursday amid strike
A man walks past a pharmacy which facade is decorated with artificial flowers in Paris, on November 24, 2022. (Photo by Emmanuel DUNAND / AFP)

Up to 90 percent of pharmacies in some parts of France may close on Thursday, as unions call for pharmacists to walk out in protest against drug shortages, wages and the sale of medication on the internet.

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The primary union, the union for community pharmacists (Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d'officine, or USPO) has called for all pharmacies across France to close on Thursday, May 30th.

French media have predicted the strike will be 'massive' and that between 75 to 90 percent of France's 20,000 pharmacies could close, making it one of the largest mobilisations by pharmacists in the last 10 years.

The situation will differ from département to département - FranceInfo reported that around 80 percent of pharmacies in Brittany would close, while Corsica will see 90 percent of pharmacies in Corse-du-Sud and 86 percent in Haute-Corse close. 

It is possible some pharmacies may be requisitioned as needed, according to France Bleu. However, these establishments will only be able to meet serious needs.

Regional health agencies (ARS) are recommending that patients pick-up any necessary prescriptions prior to the strike and to call emergency numbers if there is an urgent situation.

Across France, there will be at least 30 rallies, including one demonstration in Paris at 3pm that will move toward the Finance Ministry.

Why the strike?

Thursday's strike will be the second mobilisation in the month of May. During the Pentecost holiday weekend, on-call pharmacists walked out to demand greater financial compensation and to warn about the sale of medication online.

However, this strike is largely focused on drug shortages. Unions representing pharmacists allege that they force pharmacists to spend more of their working hours doing drug research to be able to offer alternatives to patients. 

Pierre-Olivier Variot, the head of the union for community pharmacists, told Franceinfo that this has led to an extra 12 hours of research time for the average pharmacy.

"These are 12 hours during which we cannot take care of patients. We're also dealing with tired patients who are frustrated we do not have their treatment," he said.

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Variot also explained that wages have not kept up with inflation, and as a result some pharmacies have had to close. 

Unions are also calling for the French government to better regulate the sale of medication on the internet, in order to ensure quality and safety standards, as well as pushing back against rural closures.

"The biggest worry is vanishing pharmacies" which face economic hardship in rural areas and sometimes even in towns and cities, Philippe Besset, president of the FSPF pharmacists' union federation told AFP.

Around 2,000 pharmacies have closed nationwide in 10 years, leaving around 20,000 in operation, trade bodies say.

Why the shortage of medicines?

The issue has been longstanding, and the situation was made worse during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The French Medicines Safety Agency (ANSM) reported that, in 2023, it had 4,925 medicines either out of stock or at risk of being out of stock, an increase of 30.9 percent in medicine shortages compared to 2022.

You can find the list of medications in short supply here.

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A spokesperson from ANSM told Le Point in February that there are several things causing the problem, with many of them taking place on a global level.

"There are challenges with the manufacture of raw materials and finished products, as well as qualify defects in the drugs, insufficient production capacity, and division within the manufacturing stages," the ANSM said.

On top of that, many factories dealing with raw materials are located outside of Europe.

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