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Action plan against medicine shortages in France

Ministry of Health unveils measures to avoid shortages of vital medicines

A package of measures has been unveiled to avoid shortages of vital medicines, a problem that has been growing in recent years in France.

The Ministry of Health plan involves improved information sharing and better management of the whole chain, from manufacturer to pharmacy.

Part of this is a standardised IT system for pharmacies to let pharmaceutical labs know when stocks of a medicine run out.

Another measure allows pharmacies to replace a medicine with another one with a similar effect in cases where a medicine which is medically very important has run out.

The plan also calls for more cooperation on a European level, notably on grouped purchases of essential vaccines.

The problem has come to the fore due to multiple cases in recent years of vital medicines running out, including anti-biotics, vaccines and anti-cancer medicines. Official medicines agency Anses reported 538 alerts over stocks running out or running dangerously low in 2017, compared to 44 in 2008.

Shortages of cortisone-based medicines in particular broke out recently, leaving some patients having to visit numerous pharmacies in search of their medicines.

The health ministry says more than a quarter of patients report difficulties buying a standard medicine.

Earlier this year, Anses responded to a crisis by calling on labs to import stocks from abroad and by putting in place new ways of sharing information about availability of different medicines.

One cause is said to be that the French healthcare system buys medicines at strictly-controlled rates and some labs prefer to sell them to countries willing to pay more.

Other factors include manufacturing problems, such as shortages of raw materials, as well as globalisation, which can concentrate production of vital ingredients in limited sites in the world. If there is problem at a major factory, it has immediate knock-on effects.

Some medicines are long and complex to make, such as vaccines, which typically take up to two years, making it hard to respond quickly when a shortage occurs.

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