It is often the case opportunity comes knocking when least expected, and sometimes, at an inconvenient time. Over the course of my career I have seen this happen time and time again.
And it is also true that in times of crisis, sometimes opportunity arises. All of these things are certainly true when we consider the announcement Health Minister Adrian Dix made on Sept. 29 about changes to pharmacy practice.
British Columbia continues to face unprecedented challenges in our health-care system: COVID-19 and all its many twists and turns; floods and fires compromising the delivery of care and essential medications; a never-before experienced pressure on the acute care system over more than two and a half years; a severe shortage of health-care workers; a million people without a family doctor; and now, a flu season that could be worse than we have seen in years.
For pharmacy, the last two and a half years have taken an enormous toll, with pharmacists never having taken the foot off the gas pedal. Everyone is tired, uncertain and desperate to make this time be over. I have said this often because it is worth repeating: pharmacists are the unsung health-care heroes of the pandemic. All of you have stepped up, filled the gaps and done what patients needed.
That effort has not been unnoticed. Our Minister of Health and Provincial Health Officer have regularly applauded the incredible efforts of pharmacists. Pharmacists have shown they can be counted on in times of crisis and earned a reconsideration of what more they can do to support patients and the health-care system. Some might say this recognition has come too late. But in my view, the new opportunities come at just the right time. Patients and decision makers have never had a higher level of confidence in community pharmacists.
The solutions to the health-care human resource crisis Canada-wide and in fact, internationally, are not easy. It takes time to train all health professionals — doctors, nurses, pharmacists, paramedics, to name a few. Important commitments have been made at the provincial and federal levels to increase the overall number of doctors and nurses that are trained, and to make it easier for foreign-trained professionals to work in Canada. This will take time.
Meanwhile, the obvious short-term solution is to ensure each health-care professional is working to their maximum expertise. The government Health Human Resources Strategy that was announced on Sept. 29 is focused on this. For B.C. pharmacists, this means new and exciting opportunities to adapt the widest range of medications, to provide injections for medications important to people dealing with mental health and addictions, and to help patients without a family doctor get the medications they need. Work is also beginning to introduce prescribing authority for pharmacists in the spring.
While these are things we have all been advocating for over the years, this news caught some members off guard. Many welcomed the news, but there may have been a sense of “why now?” as pharmacies balance flu shots, COVID-19 vaccines, and are moving into the busy season leading up to the year’s end. I appreciate this is a very busy time. But it is also a time when community pharmacists can all continue to make a big difference for patients and, for that reason, I think there couldn’t be a better time for these new authorities to be initiated.
Chief Executive Officer
BC Pharmacy Association