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French pharmacies to dispense without prescription

Pharmacies in France will now be able to give out more prescription-strength drugs without a prescription under certain conditions, the Assemblée Nationale has confirmed.

Under the new system, patients who require medication for benign conditions - such as, for example certain kinds of recurring angina, or cystitis -, outside of GP surgery hours, will be able to receive medication directly from the pharmacy.

Dispensing pharmacies will be required to follow a protocol put in place by health authority La Haute Autorité de la Santé, with pharmacists required to take specific training.

They will also need to establish a “mandatory link with, and information from, the [patient’s] usual doctor”, explained the MP Thomas Mesnier, who originally proposed the new rules.

He said: “There is no question of giving prescription rights to pharmacists. What we want, is to give the French people extra healthcare access, with the same quality and safety, for daily problems - such as angina or cystitis. This simple urinary infection can be treated with one dose of antibiotics.”

The system has been inspired by the Swiss “Net Care” system, as well as by pharmacies in Québec, Canada, and in Scotland. These pharmacies are authorised to dispense prescription medicines in some cases, and are designed to bridge the gap between GPs and pharmacies when necessary.

However, critics in France, including Jean-Paul Lecoq MP have said that the new rules risk creating a “two speed medicine” system.

Mr Lecoq said: “With this sliding of responsibilities between doctors and pharmacists, we fear that the right to medicine will be reserved only for the better off, for those who live in good areas.”

Another critic, Jean-Pierre Door MP, said that giving “prescriptions without medical [GP/doctor] intervention poses some questions”.

French health minister Agnès Buzyn has previously said: “We will find consensus between pharmacists and doctors. [So far] we have not been able - due to time - to have a consultation on the issue.”

She added: “[There is still] work to do so that everyone feels comfortable with this style of medicine delivery.”

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