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‘Matt Hancock’s French pharmacy dream is just that – a dream’

“In France, medicines are not sold anywhere other than pharmacies”

The health secretary’s desire to shift the UK towards the French pharmacy model appears to ignore key differences between their healthcare system and ours, says The Contractor

France has over 20,000 pharmacies – nearly 8,000 more than the UK. Even though France is bigger in land mass, its population is not double that of the UK. Hence more people have access to a pharmacy in France compared to us.

Matt Hancock’s French dream is just that – a dream. I could imagine a scenario where he visited a French pharmacy on a whim, found they were very well staffed and had lots of time. He may then have compared it to one of the usual pharmacies here with flustered skeleton staff and thought, “Hmm, I am going to make them work even harder with even less pay”.

As usual, the people in high NHS posts in the government seem to me to have no clue about what happens at ground level. Simply praising pharmacists and giving them more to do is not going to solve the issues. Pharmacists have always wanted to provide more clinical services, but we can’t, as we are at breaking point already. Mr Hancock also needs to understand that dispensing a prescription safely is a clinical service!

In my opinion, he has completely ignored the fact that the French healthcare system works differently from ours. Their rules are far stricter: medicines are not sold anywhere other than pharmacies, so they generate more income. Here we are competing with bargain shops and supermarkets. From what I have seen, they are also fans of natural remedies such as homeopathy, something that is mostly scoffed at in the UK. This, again generates more profit.

Another difference between France and the UK is that no chains own pharmacies in France, as they are all independents. They have no concept of hub-and-spoke dispensing. Every prescription is dispensed by adequately staffed chemists, and a proportion of the medicine cost is paid by the patient or their insurance.

I believe the government's push to increase the use of this dispensing model will only benefit the multiples, which are able to absorb costs through economies of sale. They can set up hubs and decrease workload on frontline staff, freeing them up for services – which all seem to be at the pilot stages currently.

Mr Hancock's French vision of asking pharmacists to “do more” could shut down many independents. Perhaps some of us will weather the storm, who knows? I can’t imagine there will be many, though, and this whole French obsession may leave the healthcare system more broken than it is already. As they say in France, ‘Qui vivra verra’!

The Contractor is an independent pharmacy owner in England

Listen to C+D's podcast from June on the French pharmacy model – and why Mr Hancock is such a fan:

9 Comments

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

His tunnel-vision dream is more like a nightmare to the pharmacy sector

Reeyah H, Community pharmacist

I have a French patient who regularly tells me how advanced French pharmacies are. They are well staffed and well stocked with health aids. The Tories have squeezed everything out of Pharmacy in this country  and now want free croissants on top!!!

ABC DEF, Primary care pharmacist

They just want to kill community sector completely and because they can they will.  We are constantly seen as target to cuts because we are not united enough with no proper union to voice for us and with incompetent representative body like  gphc and rps just being completely useless

Martin Bennett, Superintendent Pharmacist

Perhaps he should look nearer home. I'd settle for the SCOTTISH system. 
interestingly, the GPhC report on inspections showed that 40% of SCOTTISH pharmacies were assessed as "good" compared to 16% in England and 4 of the 6 pharmacies rated "excellent" were in Scotland. 
I'm not at all surprised as both funding and direction of travel has been so much better in Scotland. 
Pity the GPhC didn't highlight this to the Government in their role of protecting the public. 

Dodo pharmacist, Community pharmacist

Well said! There has been a growing narrative in recent years, propogated by the  likes of Keith Ridge and Simon Stevens, that dispensing is somehow not worth doing or being paid for. Well, it is and as you say, dispensing prescriptions safely is a clinical service and must be remunerated as such. Anything else is extra and must be paid for seperately. If Hancock wants the French model, then bring it on- no multiple ownership, medicines only sold through pharmacies - sounds like heaven to me! Will this happen ? Of course not, he only wants to cherry pick the bits he wants and forget the funding element, ownership restrictions and exclusive pharmacy only medicines sales. 

Chris Locum, Locum pharmacist

Nice words and lofty visions do not pay the bills or fund services. French pharmacies may thrive, but UK independents will dwindle in the current climate. It is a pipe-dream and distraction from the fact chains will be the only survivors here. These idiots place no value on safe dispensing being a clinical outcome. They view it in the same way as a cheap commodity like a bag of sugar.

Independent Dave, Community pharmacist

Yep yep and yep. Does Matt really care though?? No. In his mind, he probably thinks with such “innovation” and ignorance, he’ll be become prime minister in a few years time or be short listed for a Nobel prize. Few politicians seem to actually care about people anymore, only stepping on them and being yes men to further there careers.

Sham Iqbal, Community pharmacist

Couldn't agree more.  He has no idea of the protected status french pharmacies benefit from.  However, a part of me thinks it is just a ploy to keep pharmacist contractors happy until they build capacity to take dispensing out of pharmacies completely and with it take a sizeable chunk of community pharmacies (particularly the independents) out of the equation.   That will be the French model  for you.

N patel , Non Pharmacist Branch Manager

never a truer word was said... poppycock from pen pushers both at ministerial and civil service levels

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