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B.C. pharmacists set to treat minor ailments, prescribe contraception

Pharmacists in British Columbia will have more responsibilities starting June 1 in an effort to improve access for those without a family doctor and ease the stress on an overburdened health system.

The College of Pharmacists of BC says 75 per cent of eligible community pharmacists have completed the training required to be able to diagnose and prescribe medications for 21 minor ailments like acne, shingles or urinary tract infections, as well as prescribe contraception.

Health Minister Adrian Dix said Wednesday that the new services will make it easier and faster for patients to get medication and take the pressure off nurses and doctors who can focus on those with more complex needs.

“Pharmacists have received additional training and are capable of safely and effectively delivering those pharmaceutical services to patients ... who don't have a primary care provider and reduce workload on primary care providers as well,” Dix said.

The government estimates more than 750,000 patients will use the services in the first year.

It comes at a time when the provincial health-care system is facing staffing shortages and resource problems, leading to lengthy waits in emergency rooms.

Some doctors have complained about what they consider a dire situation, particularly in the province's growing Fraser Health region.

It's estimated that close to one million British Columbian residents do not have a family doctor.

Hitesh Patel, a pharmacist and owner of three Shoppers Drug Marts in Vancouver, says people often come to him with minor concerns who either don't have a doctor or are worried about waiting until they can get an appointment to see one.

He says the changes won't fix all of the struggles in health care but will hopefully help ease some of the strain.

“And I think that's what we're really trying to do, is alleviate strain, not only on the health-care system, but also in the minds of the patients in terms of having multiple convenient points to be able to go talk about their health,” he said.

Dix said the province is launching a website on June 29, allowing people to book appointments with pharmacists online, similar to the system used to get vaccines.

These latest powers come after changes last October that allowed pharmacists to administer more vaccines and renew prescriptions for up to a two-year period for people whose family doctors have retired or left their practices.

Chris Chiew, president of the BC Pharmacy Association,told a news conference on the eve of the change that pharmacists have the expertise to prescribe drugs and are looking forward to helping people get care in a timely manner.

“These pharmacies are in communities, large and small, and are open after-hours, on weekends and even on holidays. That's why we often say pharmacists are one of the most accessible health-care providers,” he said.

The association has said the province is one of the last in Canada to give pharmacists the ability to prescribe for minor ailments but one of the first to allow them to prescribe contraception.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2023.

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