Pharmacies get greater freedoms

People with long-term health problems can now get renewed supplies of medicines from their pharmacists.

29 May 2008

People with long-term health problems can now get renewed supplies of medicines from their pharmacists without a new prescription.

A new law means that if people have run out of drugs under their last prescription, they can bring in their duplicate copy for a top up of medicines (the main copy will have been sent by the pharmacy to the patient's caisse d'assurance maladie).

They will be given only the minimum amount necessary before they can see their doctor again, and in the smallest possible pack.

The pharmacist will write on the box délivrance par procédure exceptionnelle d'une boîte supplémentaire.

Pharmacist Vanessa da Silva (pictured) who works in Villeneuve-Loubet, Alpes-Maritimes, said: "The treatment must be for a minimum of three months - for example if the last prescription was for three-months' worth and has expired, and your next doctor's appointment is not for a couple of weeks, we will give you as much medicine as you need to tide you over.

“Typically this will be for long-term conditions, like cholesterol or heart disease.”

The measure is the latest tweak in the service offered by pharmacies.

Earlier this year it was decreed that many medicines previously kept behind the counter would be made available on shelves around the shop - these include such non-prescription items as painkillers and cough medicines.

However Ms da Silva said she was sceptical about the benefits.

She said: “We have been told that even if the items are put in front of the counter, we should have them close enough to us so that we can see what people are choosing and offer advice, and that they must be in sealed boxes they can't look inside.

“They might as well carry on coming in saying 'I've got a cough, what can you suggest?”

To counteract a perception of recent price hikes in some of these non-prescription medicines, pharmacists and Afipa, a pharmaceutical industry body, have signed an agreement on “good commercial practices.”

An Afipa spokeswoman said it would ensure “fair and transparent pricing,” and encourage more people to “self-medicate.”

Although these products do not have set prices, they should no longer vary much in price from one pharmacy to another, she added. Self-medication is seen by consumers as helping them to compare prices more easily.

The Attali Commission think-tank, which reported to the government earlier this year proposed greater deregulation of pharmacies, including allowing these non-prescription medicines to also be sold in supermarkets, an idea opposed by pharmacies.

Social security reimbursement of prescribed pharmacy medicines is different from the procedure for a doctor's visit where you pay upfront and then receive a reimbursement from your caisse d'assurance maladie.

Some medicines, with white labels and marked 100%, do not cost anything as long as you are in the state health system - these are usually for the most serious illnesses.

Others are reimbursed at 65% (white labels) or 35% (blue labels). A government body decides on the percentage, based on the seriousness of the conditions they treat.

In all cases a private mutuelle insurance policy will top up the cost to 100%. If you have one there is no need to hand over money at the pharmacy - simply present your mutuelle card.

If you do not have a mutuelle you will have to pay any surplus.

Out of hours service
A local duty chemist must be available to residents by law.

Although some chemists in cities may be open 24 hours, seven days a week, pharmacies may also take it in turns.

The rota is generally decided at the start of the year by professional pharmaceutical unions.

Telephone numbers for duty pharmacies are advertised on the walls of local chemists, in local tourist guides and at police stations.

In rural areas they may only be open a limited number of extra hours, with a number to contact left on an answer-machine for an emergency call-out.

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