In 2014 the UK had 2.8 doctors per thousand people and France had 3.3. It is reasonably easy to find a doctor and to get an appointment. An appointment is scheduled to take 15 minutes. Expect to have to jump onto the consulting couch and to have your blood pressure taken and your heart listened to during each visit. Because you pay your doctor a fee at each examination and because you can go and join a different practice, doctors try to give good value. Two items on the prescription are normal. The average French person has 1.5kg of unused drugs in their medicine cupboards according to a Minister of Health. If they have that amount of unused medicine, just think of the quantity they did take! The figures are per person, so families must have even more!
Be careful to check at the pharmacy if the items are reimbursed by social security. I was once prescribed some B vitamins. The pharmacist was trying to be helpful (or using the opportunity to practise her English) and I thought she said ‘sixteen euros’. When the sum came up on the till, I saw to my horror that I was expected to pay ‘sixty’! If you work, you can ask for a ‘Carte Vital’,which, when presented at the doctor’s, the pharmacy and for any medical need, will ensure you get the reimbursements. The social security will pay back part of the money for the doctor and the pills. Everyone is also expected to have a ‘mutuelle’, which is a private health insurance scheme that covers most of the rest of the sum. As medicines are not sold cheaply in supermarkets people will often go to the doctor with minor ailments, such as sore throats and colds, that Brits would treat themselves with over-the-counter purchases. I once had a student who owned a pharmacy. When I showed her the medicines that I had bought over the counter in the UK she was horrified. A bottle of Kaolin and Morphine made her eyebrows shoot up. ‘But this is very dangerous, you could overdose on the morphine.’ I don’t remember if ‘Buttercup Syrup’ was considered as too dangerous to be confided into the hands of a French person. As for being able to buy paracetamols for 25p a packet from Superdrug, that will never be allowed to happen in France – too many local pharmacies would have to close. You can usually get a doctor’s appointment on a Saturday morning.