As a pharmacist and senior lecturer in pharmacy science, Helen Root from Leicestershire appreciates the French pharmacy experience more than most when spending time at her holiday home in Deux-Sèvres
Being a pharmacist and having worked in community pharmacy in the UK for over 20 years, I must confess to having a bit of an obsession with visiting pharmacies when abroad and France is no exception. It is evident that in France, the pharmacist is valued as a healthcare professional and perhaps seen less as a ‘shopkeeper’, which is part of the challenge faced in the UK.
I am always fascinated by the vast array of homecare support provided too, from orthotic shoes to wheelchairs and walking frames. There is less emphasis on other ‘retail’ areas such as cosmetics, and you would never buy your ‘meal deal’ lunch from the pharmacy in France. Instead you’d most likely head across the road to the boulangerie, because even the smallest villages in France have both a pharmacy and a boulangerie.
The sheer number of pharmacies in France suggests to me how frequently people visit them, before or instead of their GP, with the pharmacist having access to a wide range of conventional and complementary medicines to treat many ailments, both minor or more complex.
I love browsing the shelves in France and looking at all the alternative, herbal remedies, which are, in the most part, dismissed in the UK, as well as finding out what you can buy ‘over the counter’ without needing a prescription.
The pharmacy in France is not just about dispensing prescriptions, but also dispensing advice and care, at the heart of the community. The concept of community pharmacy as I knew it back in the UK 20 years ago was much closer to France’s model of care today. I now work in the UK in academia, where our pharmacists train for five years (in France training takes six years) and are more than qualified to take on a more central healthcare role in the UK. Pharmacists are ready to deliver a clinical, community-based level of care in the local pharmacy. All we need now is a change in NHS policy and to educate the public that pharmacists are not shopkeepers, but just another healthcare professional in a wider team.