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France needs up to 15,000 pharmacists to fill gaps, unions say

Two thirds of pharmacies across the country report being understaffed and overworked, according to the pharmacy federation

Just like vets or waiters, pharmacists are missing in every French region Pic: Zamrznuti tonovi / Shutterstock

Around 15,000 pharmacists are needed in France to fill shortages across the country, three professionals from the industry have told The Connexion.

Those interviewed said the shortage was mainly triggered by the added workload created by duties such as Covid testing, and new recruits being unwilling to work longer hours and to settle in rural areas. There is also a lack of students entering the profession from universities.

Read more: French ‘medical deserts’: Mayor’s plea over lack of rural GPs

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The alarm was sounded by Philippe Besset, president of the Fédération des Syndicats Pharmaceutiques de France (FSPF), France’s pharmacist union, who took to French radio Franceinfo to raise his concerns.

“No regions are spared by the phenomenon. When you crunch the numbers, roughly two thirds of all dispensaries have empty positions,” Mr Besset told The Connexion.

While the total number of pharmacists has increased 2.8% over the last ten years – to 74,034 in 2022 according to figures provided by the France’s Ordre des pharmaciens regulating body – the number of pharmacists within dispensaries has steadily declined.

This is because many opt for positions in laboratories instead, Mr Besset said.

The national reach of the shortage was also stressed by Pierre-Olivier Variot, president of the Union des syndicats de pharmaciens d’officine, who cited Yonne, Nièvre, Corsica and Provence-Alpes-Côtes-d'Azur as the areas most affected.

Aurélien Filoche, director of OuiPharma, a platform presenting the details of up-for-sale dispensaries, said that more than 3,000 are listed for sale every year but only half of them are actually sold.

Mr Filoche said some dispensaries have been listed on the website for five years, or since the company was founded in 2016. He said 332 dispensaries have been sold since 2021 – or 23% of the market – but the figure is still low enough for the shortage to continue. 

Mr Variot shared a story he learned on a tour of France’s dispensaries, in which a pharmacist said he was forced to work six to seven days a week after he was unable to find assistants to replace two departing members of staff.

“Pharmacists no longer want to work nights or weekends,” said Mr Variot, drawing parallels with the catering industry’s struggle to find waiters. 

The Connexion have also reported on the same predicament within the veterinary industry.

Read more: Vet shortage in France as young graduates quit for work-life balance

Mr Variot said that the pharmacist in question was only able to find staff when he closed the dispensary on Saturdays after being unable to keep it open by himself. This assured prospective applicants that they would never have to work on Saturdays and therefore resulted in more interest. 

“Maybe the industry will need to reorganise its working schedule and conditions,” said Mr Variot, adding that the students he had spoken with had suggested that working conditions and hours were more important than higher wages.

Professionals told The Connexion they feared the shortage might climb higher, as more than 5,000 pharmacists were already at retirement age, and that pharmaceutical students would only meet half of the total demand.

“The lack of pharmacists on university campuses will become a huge problem in the next five years,” said Mr Filoche.

“We do not create them just like that,” he added. 

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