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French pharmacists strike over closures, shortages and online pharmacy proposals


French pharmacists strike over closures, shortages and online pharmacy proposals

Pharmacists across France are holding a one-day strike today (May 30) in protest against the French government’s handling of medicine shortages, online pharmacy proposals and an economic settlement that unions claim is driving the rapid rise in permanent closures.  

According to some reports, up to 90 per cent of pharmacies will close their doors as pharmacists stage protests in towns and major cities across France, with the largest demonstration expected to take place in Paris. The sector last staged industrial action in 2014.

At least two unions appear to be involved in organising the strike and demonstrations, the USPO and the FSPF. 

All pharmacies closing their doors must notify local health authorities, and some will be required to remain open to patients. Pharmacies taking part in the strike can only engage in closed-door working, according to the USPO.  

Speaking to P3pharmacy, USPO director general Jérôme Koenig said pharmacists are spending up to 12 hours per week dealing with shortages. He claimed government officials have refused to engage with the sector’s proposed solutions around supply chain transparency and enhanced substitution powers for pharmacists.  

Mr Koenig said that between 30 and 40 pharmacies are closing each month amid economic difficulties, endangering the health of local communities. The network comprises around 20,000 pharmacies, roughly 2,000 fewer than a decade ago. 

Another factor in the strikes are the proposals of politician Marc Ferracci to relax rules around the online sale of medicines, which Mr Koenig claimed would be a boon to drug traffickers and promote the unsafe consumption of medicines with potential to harm.  

The unions are also demanding that the government review a remuneration offer made earlier in May that Mr Koenig said falls short of what is needed to help pharmacies cope with a 25 per cent rise in overheads and staffing costs over the last five years. 

UK community pharmacies have not taken part in industrial action on this scale in recent memory. In early 2020, community pharmacists in Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action over a long-running funding dispute with the Department of Health, but this was called off due to the Covid-19 emergency.  

Community Pharmacy Northern Ireland chief executive Gerard Greene told P3pharmacy: It is perhaps notable that the issues the French pharmacists are striking on will resonate with many community pharmacy teams across Northern Ireland; given the similarities in the issues being faced in both countries I am sure many pharmacists here will be watching developments in France with interest.”

Meanwhile, pharmacies in England last year refused to roll out new services and service expansions over concerns about the financial strain they would place on the sector’s core activities, a stance that was later dropped following successful talks. 

Asked about Community Pharmacy England's official position on strike action, CPE chief Janet Morrison told P3pharmacy: "We are fully sympathetic to the desperation and anger felt by pharmacy business owners and their staff, who are in urgent need of an improved and sustained funding offer.

"Our committee has recently discussed campaign tactics to help amplify our efforts in pressing for increased investment, and will consider any legal course of action that could be effective in achieving better results for community pharmacies.

"However, we are also aware that other sector bodies or groups of pharmacy owners may wish to take their own steps to make their opinions heard.”

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