Geraldine Vance: Pharmacists an essential voice

August 16, 2018 The Tablet

In complex times there is often an urge to seek simple solutions. With the enormity of the human and environmental crises that we see on our daily news feeds, it is easy to want a tidy fix to such big problems. While I will resist the urge to name political leaders who are simplifying complex issues into hourly tweets, I am concerned that the instinct to get things fixed quickly is spilling over into public policy debates in Canada. Notably, the recently announced review of a national pharmacare model. 

The current Federal Government’s decision to initiate a review of drug coverage for Canadians is not without merit. While not a new topic, it is fair to think that given the fast pace of change in pharmaceutical therapies and their subsequent cost implications, a review of options is appropriate. The decision to name Dr. Eric Hoskins as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Implementation of National Pharmacare is one few within health-care circles would criticize. He is a respected physician and has considerable public policy experience, as a former Ontario health minister and politician.

Early indications, however, show the Council is starting off on the wrong foot. How can a national review of pharmacare coverage fail to include even a single community pharmacist – the professionals who interact with millions of patients at community pharmacies across the country? Or a representative from the private benefit provider community, which represents nearly 60 per cent of drug coverage in Canada? 

I was troubled to hear pharmacists referred to as just one of the stakeholders, whom the Council would hope to engage with during its consultation time. I know the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) advocated for the inclusion of at least one pharmacist on the Advisory Council and feel that involving pharmacy is essential to the legitimization of the Council’s recommendations.

All Canadians want the best health-care system possible and that includes access to the medications they need for both unexpected traumas as well as chronic conditions. Pharmacists know some patients struggle to afford their medications and they are anxious to be part of the debate that finds solutions to this problem. Pharmacists can help manage costs through programs such as adaptation and therapeutic substitutions and these opportunities should be expanded. But how can such opportunities be part of the Council’s action plan when pharmacists are not at the table?

The BCPhA, CPhA, Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada and other provincial associations will certainly take the opportunity to make submissions to the Advisory Council. It is indeed a failing that the Canadian government has not harnessed the expertise of pharmacists in its review of this key issue. 

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