In less than a few days, you will have the opportunity to help decide the future of New Brunswick by voting in the provincial election.
Health care is one of the top issues New Brunswick faces. We all know things need to change if our healthcare system is going to be able to continue caring for New Brunswickers when they need it. Our elected officials say over and over again that we need to approach health care differently if we want it to be sustainable; yet, do they ever really do anything differently?
Not in the case of New Brunswick pharmacists.
We have a question for all candidates running in the election and for voters too: Why are pharmacists being left out of the conversation about health care?
New Brunswick has 750 community pharmacists in 230 pharmacies in all corners of this province. Pharmacists are close to home, accessible, and highly trained. They are available evenings, weekends and holidays without an appointment. Opinion polls show again and again that patients trust their pharmacists and want them to provide more health care services.
Yet, suggestions on how New Brunswick pharmacists can help improve access to primary care and lessen the burden on overcrowded ERs continue to fall on deaf ears.
For the past decade, New Brunswick pharmacists have been a leader in Canada when it comes to what we can do for our patients. Yet, New Brunswick is second to last in Canada when it comes to funding for pharmacy services.
Urinary tract infections are one of the top five reasons for ER visits. About 100 women every day in New Brunswick get a UTI. Those who have had a UTI know how awful it can make you feel and how quickly treatment is needed. Pharmacists are trained and able to help these women, but the government refuses to fund it this healthcare service when it is provided by a pharmacist. That means women have to pay out of pocket at their pharmacy or wait to see their doctor or go to an ER (where they don’t need to be).
A recent Alberta study showed that comprehensive long-term pharmacist care for New Brunswickers with hypertension, including patient education and prescribing, would improve patient outcomes and could save the health care system $445 million over 30 years. A recent Quebec study demonstrated that when patients visited their pharmacy instead of an ER or after-hours clinic for minor ailments, the savings to government exceeded $500 million.
Saskatchewan pharmacists are now funded for treating minor ailments (including urinary tract infections for women) as well as prescribing birth control. These are important women’s health issues. In Nova Scotia, the government realized that almost one-third of their lab resources are used on Warfarin patients testing their INR results. Pharmacists can provide these tests and are now collaborating with doctors and health authorities to Improve access, free up lab resources and save money.
Here in New Brunswick, pharmacists’ suggestions have been ignored. In addition to the ones mentioned above, pharmacists have suggested: a trial prescription program to reduce drug wastage; medication adherence program to decrease hospitalizations; a pharmacist-led smoking cessation program; and a medication waste stewardship program.
The response from the Gallant government over the past four years? Crickets.
Just this week, the Liberal Party released its platform that includes one small promise to cover the cost for low-income seniors to get their prescriptions in bubble packs at their local pharmacy.
Is this it? What’s wrong with the other ideas? Where is the vision and leadership? This is not enough. New Brunswickers deserve more.
Both the Progressive Conservatives and the Green Party have clearly committed to doing things differently when it comes to pharmacists. The Liberal Party is making the same commitment as in 2014 – the status quo.
We can no longer rely on the ‘old way’ of caring for patients. Pharmacists can do more to help patients and to improve the healthcare system but change will not come until voters demand it and politicians do more than just talk.
During this campaign, we’ve asked political parties to answer questions about how New Brunswick can better use pharmacists to help patients. Voters can find the detailed responses on pharmacy services from each party on our website (nbpharma.ca).
With only a few days to go before you cast your ballot, we encourage you to read their responses and decide whether it’s time for change or for more of the status quo.
Andrew Brillant (BSP)
New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association