‘2,000 French pharmacies lost in 10 years’: why May 30 strike is huge

Up to 95% of pharmacies are closed today. We explain how to find an emergency pharmacy

Rural pharmacies are most at-risk of closure, unions have warned
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Between 90-95% of pharmacies in France are closed today (May 30) as a result of a strike by two major industry unions, whose reps have warned France has lost 2,000 pharmacies in 10 years.

The trend is continuing; 283 pharmacies closed in 2023 alone.

Read also: 16 things you can do at a French pharmacy other than buy aspirin 

Unions la Fédération des Syndicats Pharmaceutiques de France (FSPF) and the Union des Syndicats des Pharmaciens d’Officine (USPO) are also railing against the ongoing shortage of many key medicines, and a revaluation of their fees.

Almost all of the country’s 20,500 pharmacies are expected to be closed today (although some will remain open, see below if you need a pharmacy).

Several demonstrations are planned, with the largest march set for Paris. It was scheduled to leave at 15:00, beginning at the Faculté de la pharmacie, and ending in front of the Economy Ministry. 

“I've never seen pharmacists so angry,” said Denis Millet, general secretary of the FSPF to the HuffPost. “There's a feeling of contempt and of not being appreciated. During Covid-19, we were there when we were asked, and we did our job well. And now that we have needs, we feel that we no longer exist and that no one is listening to us.”

He warned that the pharmacies most at risk of closure are in small villages or rural areas. “It’s worrying for the needs of the population,” he said. “We’ve had medical deserts, so if you add pharmaceutical deserts to that…”

Vice president of the Ordre national des pharmaciens in Occitanie, Jean-Marie Guillermin has also raised this as a major issue. “The problem is particularly acute in rural areas, where it is now sometimes necessary to travel more than 20 kilometres to find a pharmacy,” he told La Dépêche.

Read also: Seven questions about ‘medical deserts’ in France
Read also: Eight facts to understand France’s issue of ‘medical deserts’

Rising costs and medicine shortages

Mr Millet said that fees and extra charges on pharmacies have mounted in recent years, and that pharmacists pay “has not been reevaluated in years”, despite pharmacists “being asked to carry out more and more tasks, to make up for the lack of doctors”, added Mr Guillermin.

The rising cost of medicine, combined with the government’s healthcare money saving measures, have also had an impact, Mr Millet said.

“The government must tackle this issue head-on and massively increase the price of medicines,” he said. “In Italy, they buy an antibiotic straight from the factory at €3.50, compared with 76 cents here. When manufacturers don't have a lot of stock, it’s a no-brainer [to go with Italy].” 

Shortages have also been caused by high global demand in factories in India and China, after prolonged closures over the Covid pandemic. Mr Millet called for the government to “take clear measures” and “negotiate with laboratories” so that they make more medicines in France.

Read also: How France plans to fix its medicine shortages and the drugs worst hit 
Read also: What is the hold-up in dealing with medicine shortages in France? 

Medicine shortages have affected France in recent years, with basic drugs such as paracetamol, and the antibiotic amoxicillin among those in short supply, as well as more specialist drugs such as anti-inflammatories, anti-diabetics, and cortisone.

Mr Millet said that pharmacist unions had been negotiating with la Caisse Nationale d’Assurance Maladie (Cnam) since the end of 2023, but “nothing has happened so far”.

“The latest proposals we received were far below our expectations. Some pharmacists even said it was humiliating and insulting. I've never heard those words used in our dealings with each other,” he said.

Mr Guillemin said that the “government is proposing to raise fees by 10%”, but that “all the unions believe that this is not enough to work properly and ensure good access to care”.

Pharmacy students are also on strike, not only to support the profession, but also due to grievances over promises of reform to their training, which they say have not been kept. These changes would have enabled more students to gain work experience in rural pharmacies, and be paid better, they said.

Read also: 10 key measures adopted in France’s new healthcare budget 

How do I find an emergency pharmacy?

Most pharmacies will be closed, but a minimum service is expected to be provided in some areas, and emergency pharmacies will be open.

The Agences régionales de santé (ARS) have provided a list of pharmacies that are set to be open to continue to provide continuity of care and in case of emergencies.

The links below will take you to the regional ARS site for that area, with more information by department.

You can find a duty pharmacy, which will be open to offer a continued service, on the site Servigardes. You can also call the number 3237 (from within France) to find out the nearest duty pharmacy near you.

If you would like to show support of the pharmacists, and make a stand against the closure of more pharmacies, you can sign the USPO’s online petition here. So far, almost 65,000 people have signed.

The petition has also outlined some more strike goals, including the banning of the selling of medicines through sites such as Amazon, and the sale of medicines in supermarkets.