FRANCE – French pharmacists staged their first nationwide strike in a decade to protest against many issues, including drug shortages, pharmacy closures, potential online medication sales, and the need for higher pay. 

The strike, which saw a united front from various stakeholders in the profession, including unions, pharmacist groups, and students, marks a significant move in a sector not accustomed to such collective action.

Around 90 percent of pharmacies were shuttered, and in some provincial cities such as Ajaccio, Nice, Avignon, Mâcon, and Roanne, every single one was closed. The impact of the strike was deeply felt. 

Local authorities ensured minimal coverage in certain areas, requisitioning some locations to meet legal requirements. 

Patients, forewarned through poster and email campaigns, were left grappling with limited access to vital medications and services.

One of the primary concerns driving the strike is the threat of closing pharmacies, particularly in rural areas where economic viability is increasingly challenged.

Philippe Besset, president of the French Federation of Pharmaceutical Unions (FSPF), highlighted this issue, noting that nearly 2,000 pharmacies have closed over the past decade, leaving a dwindling number of around 20,000 operating nationwide.

The call for better pay, amidst rising inflation and mounting operational costs, highlights the financial strain felt by pharmacists. 

Discussions with France’s national health insurance authority aim to address this issue, with unions pushing for a pay increase starting in 2025. 

However, tensions are exacerbated by suspicions surrounding government plans to facilitate online sales of over-the-counter medications, potentially jeopardizing the traditional pharmacy model.

While government representatives ensure that pharmacists maintain their drug monopoly, skepticism lingers within the profession.

Marc Feracci, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, emphasized the need for caution regarding online sales proposals, reassuring that major retailers like supermarkets or online platforms such as Amazon would not receive any concessions.

Protests and demonstrations are planned nationwide, with pharmacists mobilizing to make their grievances heard. 

From university towns to the heart of Paris, the strike serves as a potent reminder of pharmacies’ critical role in healthcare delivery and the urgent need for reforms to safeguard their future.

On June 5, representatives will meet health insurance officials in hopes of holding a conclusive dialogue, offering a glimmer of hope for resolution amidst the ongoing standoff.

As pharmacists stand firm in their demands, the nation watches closely, recognizing the pivotal moment in the fight for fair pay and accessible healthcare services.

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