French Pharmacists Strike Over Pay and Drug Shortages, Spark Nationwide Closures

PARIS – On May 30, French pharmacists embarked on their first walkout in a decade, protesting against drug shortages, the closure of pharmacies, potential online medication sales, and demands for higher pay. The strike resulted in around 90% of pharmacies across France shutting their doors for the day, with complete closures in some regional towns.

Local authorities have requisitioned certain pharmacies to ensure legally-required minimum coverage, ensuring that essential services remain available despite the widespread strike.

The pharmacists’ concerns extend beyond pay to include drug shortages, the closure of rural pharmacies, and training reforms. Philippe Besset, president of the FSPF pharmacists’ union federation, emphasized the economic hardships facing pharmacies, particularly in rural areas. “The biggest worry is vanishing pharmacies,” he stated, noting that around 2,000 pharmacies have closed nationwide over the past decade, leaving about 20,000 in operation.

Unions are advocating for higher pay starting in 2025 to offset the rising costs driven by inflation. These demands come ahead of scheduled talks next week with France’s national health insurance authority. In addition to the walkouts, pharmacists plan to hold demonstrations in various towns nationwide and a central protest in Paris. The Paris march will proceed from the pharmacy school to the economy ministry, highlighting the pharmacists’ grievances.

A significant point of contention is the suspected government plans to facilitate online sales of over-the-counter medications. Pierre-Olivier Variot, president of the USPO pharmacists’ union, warned that such measures could dismantle the pharmacy network, which employs around 130,000 people. “All the ingredients are in place to kill the network,” he asserted.

Marc Feracci, an MP for President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party, confirmed that easier online sales were “under consideration” but reassured that the government would not jeopardize pharmacists’ drug monopoly. “Nothing will be opened up to big supermarkets nor will medications be added to Amazon,” Feracci insisted.

As the strike unfolds, the government and pharmacists continue to navigate the complex issues affecting the pharmacy sector, with the potential for significant changes in the industry’s landscape.