Ontario expands pharmacists' prescription powers to ease burden on doctors, walk-in clinics

Medpoint Care Pharmacy in Citi Plaza is seeing an upswing in patients looking to fill their prescriptions. (Mike Lacasse/CBC London - image credit)
Medpoint Care Pharmacy in Citi Plaza is seeing an upswing in patients looking to fill their prescriptions. (Mike Lacasse/CBC London - image credit)

The Ford government announced on Thursday as part of its 2023 budget that it is increasing the number of ailments pharmacists can prescribe treatments for this fall.

It's an expansion of the powers the Progressive Conservative government first gave pharmacists in January to help reduce the burden on family doctors, emergency rooms and walk-in clinics.

London pharmacists say it's a net positive and hope that more steps are taken to help Ontarians who would otherwise be forced to wait for treatment.

"The idea is to reduce the wait times and then we can bank on our ability to triage and appropriately take care of the patients," said Nauman Shaikh, a registered pharmacist at Medpoint Care Pharmacy in Citi Plaza.

He said there has been an uptick in patients walking in since the first expansion of powers in January, but is worried there are many people out there who aren't yet aware of the changes.

"More people need to know that we can help patients out in terms of prescribing, but that will come with time," said Shaikh.

Mike Lacasse/CBC London
Mike Lacasse/CBC London

Registered pharmacist Amir Ibrahim, who works at Berkshire Pharmacy, said while it's good for Ontario's healthcare system, it also means more work and expenses for pharmacies.

"We had to hire more staff because they have to do our regular work until we assist the patient and go through all of the symptoms and all of the procedures of the treatment," said Ibrahim.

Despite that, Ibrahim said he's glad for the expanded powers, as many of his patients suffer from chronic pain and it's difficult for them to see a doctor or go to a walk-in clinic.

"In British Columbia, the pharmacist there can dispense more for minor ailments. Here in Ontario, we are the last province to provide that service for our patients, so we need to do some expansion," said Ibrahim.

The list of additional ailments pharmacists can prescibe treatment for include:

  • Mild to moderate acne.

  • Canker sores.

  • Diaper dermatitis.

  • Yeast infections.

  • Pinworms and threadworms.

  • Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy.

Smaller, more specialized pharmacies have been less affected by the policy change and anticipate that will continue when the expanded powers roll out this fall.

"I only get maybe a couple of people per week that come in and ask for these kinds of things," said registered pharmacist Josh Soares, who works at Commissioners Pharmacy.

Still, he said this will further reduce the amount of administrative inquiries and delayed communications between doctors' offices and his team, ultimately helping his patients avoid long wait times.

"I may have known the answer in terms of what to do, but not have the authority to prescribe. I'd have to wait 24 to 48 hours for a response from the doctor and then the patient is kind of stuck in the meantime," said Soares.

Shaikh, Ibrahim and Soares all agree that the government is taking the right first steps with how pharmacies can help ease some of the strain on the province's healthcare system.

"Whatever it takes to share in the burden that the emergency rooms and walk-in clinics have right now, we are more than ready to step up and help out," said Shaikh.

Pharmacists' ability to prescribe treatment for the additional six ailments will begin in the fall.