French pharmacies now able to prescribe antibiotics…but GPs sceptical

A doctors’ union has denounced the change intended to help GPs with the burden of prescribing antibiotics for simple complaints

Pharmacists will be able to prescribe antibiotics for some simple complaints under certain conditions, but GPs have criticised the plans
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People in France will soon be able to get antibiotics from pharmacies without a prescription from a GP for issues such as cystitis and bacterial sore throats - although a doctors’ union has criticised the plans.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne this week announced that she would authorise pharmacies to prescribe antibiotics for certain non-severe issues, in a bid to ease the burden on GP surgeries and address the growing shortage of access to medical care in some rural areas.

Pharmacists will only be able to prescribe drugs under strict conditions. This will include a test “to confirm the bacterial nature" of the illness (a test rapide d’orientation diagnostique, TROD), and a patient interview.

New Health Minister Aurélien Rousseau said that pharmacist prescriptions would only be allowed for conditions that “patients often [already] recognise themselves”, and that the dispensing pharmacist would need to be “part of a team” and could “only treat the simplest of cases”.

He explained: “In the case of cystitis for example, it’s something that some people experience regularly. It's extremely painful, and sometimes it's infuriating because you know what medicine to take, the pharmacist knows too, but you don't have the prescription.”

The tests along with the antibiotics would both be paid for by the Assurance Maladie, said the General Secretary of pharmacist union UNPF, Eric Myon, on FranceInter (Friday, September 1).

The pharmacist would be “under the supervision of a doctor”, and would ask questions to remove the possibility of “something more serious”, added Mr Rousseau. “If the pharmacist suspects something more serious, they will direct you towards a doctor.

“This isn’t about replacing doctors, it’s about sharing tasks for the benefit of the public.”

The plans come amid the government’s wider effort to “expand the skillsets” of health professionals, to help ease the oversaturation of GP surgeries and hospitals.

This includes enabling pharmacists and midwives to - for example - prescribe certain medications, and to offer routine vaccinations.

Doctors: ‘Window-dressing measures’

Yet, some doctors have criticised the plans.

President of the GP union MG France, Dr Agnès Giannotti, denounced the measures as “window dressing”.

She told FranceInfo that prescribing antibiotics is a “simple procedure that takes almost no time”, and would not help ease GPs’ treatment burden. She said that cooperation between pharmacists and GPs in some areas was useful, but only “when it is part of a coordinated effort”.

She said that it can be “useful in some areas and not in others”.

“This doesn’t fix the problem of having no access to a GP,” said Dr Giannotti. “Successive governments have not had what it takes to ensure that all people in France have access to a GP. So this is not addressing the root of the problem.”

Instead, she called for the government to address "the working conditions and appeal of being a GP" saying that the job’s lack of appeal was the “real problem”.

She also said that she was worried about pharmacies dispensing medication to patients who “suffer from recurrent cystitis or sore throats”, and said that there were also risks involved in case of side-effects and allergies to medication.

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