France’s government wants to tackle rising medicine shortages by bringing the production of key drugs back onto French or European soil.
French pharmaceutical production and stocks are down significantly after the double impact of Covid-19 and the flu and bronchiolitis epidemic of last winter, according to France Assos Santé, an association that represents users of the French healthcare system.
Shortages have been blamed on the fact 80% of medicines used in France are manufactured outside the EU, mainly in China or India, compared to just 20% around 30 years ago.
This means that when the supply chain breaks down, or another country has a better offer, deliveries can be delayed, causing shortages.
Shortages in supply
In 2022, more than 3,000 medicines were under strain, with some experiencing major shortages, according to figures from the medicine safety agency ANSM. By comparison, there were just 405 in the same position in 2016.
Paracetamol, cortisone and antibiotics are among the common drugs facing a lack of supply.
The most recent drug hit by the issue was amoxicillin. More than 70% of pharmacies reported experiencing supply problems with the medicine, which is mainly prescribed to children.
A March 2023 survey by France Assos Santé stated that 37% of respondents who needed prescription drugs had experienced problems getting hold of their medication, compared to 25% who said the same in 2019. Of those, 45% had to change their treatment plan, or go without, the report said.
Some shortages even saw people travelling to Italy to buy medicines that they could not find in France. In January this year, several pharmacies in the Italian border town of Ventimiglia said they were stocking up on medicines specifically for customers from France.
‘Big plan to tackle shortages’
France’s Health Minister, François Braun, has admitted that there is a “problem” with drug supply, but denied that it amounted to a real “shortage”.
In an interview with BFMTV, he said: “There are no medicines that are completely unavailable, but they are under pressure.”
Mr Braun claimed delivery delays were behind most of the shortages.
However, he added: “No more. We have a big plan that we are putting in place to tackle the medicine shortages.”
The plan, announced in the BFMTV interview, includes:
The creation of a new, precise list of medicines that people in France cannot do without
The identification of all production points in France, and the active ingredient produced
Ensuring that essential medicines are always available
The repatriation of production of these active ingredients to France and the European Union
Mr Braun said: “We must determine which are the most essential medicines, the critical medicines, those which no one can do without. We are in the process of finalising this list in partnership with most medical specialist authorities.”
The plan has been inspired by the US, which maintains a list of 173 essential medicines.
It was a key election pledge by President Emmanuel Macron, who announced a plan of ‘medical sovereignty’ by 2030.