Pharmacists are working to fill the gaps in an overburdened health care system

Some provinces are considering easing regulations, allowing pharmacists to expand their functions in the event of a pandemic.

Some Canadian pharmacists say they are struggling to fill the gaps in an overburdened healthcare system, which leads them to care for many patients who wish to avoid medical clinics and emergencies.

“I have to do everything from dressing a patient who has cut his head open and doesn’t want to go to the ER to treating someone who has suicidal thoughts. And that’s just me. My colleagues have a lot of stories to tell,” said a Toronto pharmacist, Kyrollos Maseh.

Maseh added that he uses his additional training in areas such as first aid and psychopharmacology to help patients he would normally send to the ER because pharmacists are not usually trained to do this kind of thing.

Regulatory flexibility

In spite of the challenges caused by the pandemic, many pharmacists have expressed a willingness to do more, and it seems that this could certainly happen.

Some provinces are beginning to soften regulations on what pharmacists can do without authorization from physicians.

Also in response to COVID-19, Health Canada has loosened restrictions on controlled drugs and narcotics such as fentanyl and morphine. The provinces and pharmacists’ associations are in the process of deciding what this will mean in their jurisdictions.

Ontario allows its pharmacists to transfer, renew and adjust prescriptions for controlled substances and to accept verbal prescriptions from physicians for these types of drugs.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, pharmacists can now transfer prescriptions for controlled substances to other pharmacists in the province and pharmacy staff can now deliver these prescriptions to patients’ homes.

Recent discussions about the lack of PPE for pharmacists

In an open letter to the federal government dated March 18, the Canadian Pharmacists Association raised concerns about the lack of PPE provided to pharmacists.

“Pharmacists are the most accessible health care providers and the first point of contact for many Canadians,” the letter states, “particularly those with chronic conditions and other risk factors that make them more vulnerable to the effects of COVID-19 infection.

Health Canada told CBC News that since pharmacists are regulated by the provinces, it is up to the provinces to decide whether pharmacists would get the protection they want.

Many provinces, including Nova Scotia and Ontario, do not provide protective equipment to pharmacists.
But other provinces, including New Brunswick and Alberta are ahead of the curve and have begun to provide PPE to pharmacists and pharmacy technicians with the assistance of their provincial pharmacy associations.