Pharmacists welcome new prescribing powers — but some say it's happening too fast

Pharmacists across Ontario are now able to assess and provide prescriptions for 13 common ailments. They'll be available at Ottawa Medical Pharmacy — but for now, on an appointment-only basis. (Olivier Periard/CBC - image credit)
Pharmacists across Ontario are now able to assess and provide prescriptions for 13 common ailments. They'll be available at Ottawa Medical Pharmacy — but for now, on an appointment-only basis. (Olivier Periard/CBC - image credit)

Ontario pharmacists can now prescribe relief for 13 common ailments like pink eye and cold sores, but not all Ottawa pharmacies say they're ready for the new responsibilities.

CBC Ottawa contacted more than 30 pharmacies to find out if they'll be offering prescriptions at the beginning of the new year, and found that while many want to offer the service, some feel they aren't prepared.

The province announced the new prescribing powers in July 2022, part of a move to reduce the load on primary care physicians and emergency rooms hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic and a surge in viral illnesses.

Ontario is the second last province to provide the service.

"The help we could give [before] was quite limited," said Matt Yang, who owns the Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy.

"Now that we have a little bit more voice and a little bit more range of help that we can give to our customers, we're definitely excited."

Despite that excitement, Yang said the Ontario College of Pharmacists only provided guidelines for the new regime a month ago, allowing for very little time to implement any changes.

Yang said he won't offer the new service for at least another month, as his pharmacy sees more than 50 customers a day and he's the only full-time pharmacist.

"This will involve dedicated time with the customers and pharmacists," he said. "Right now we're busy enough with dispensing medications, giving injections ... we need a little bit more help.

"Our main focus is to do this thing right."

Avanthika Anand/CBC
Avanthika Anand/CBC

Pharmacist shortage not helping

Ottawa Medical Pharmacy owner Ashraf Yacoub said he's on the lookout for pharmacists who can meet the new demand.

"There is a pharmacist shortage right now," he said. "[A lot] has been loaded on us, including injections, counselling, support for all the clients. We have been the first line of defence, and we definitely need more support now."

Yacoub is one of two full-time pharmacists at a location that sees about 100 customers a day. He says he'll start by offering prescriptions only to people who call ahead and book an appointment.

"If it's one or two prescriptions a day, I hope I can handle that. But more than that, I would have to delay to a different day," he said.

"We can only help as much as we have the power to help."

Mark Bochsler/CBC
Mark Bochsler/CBC

'Hit the ground jogging'

Vanier Pharmacy co-owner Navdeep Singh is in a similar situation.

Singh said he plans to create a system where he and his colleague have two hours of overlap each day so they can properly handle their new responsibilities.

He said he welcomes the change, as many people his pharmacy serves don't have a family doctors and it was "discouraging" to not be able to help them.

"Consider a mom who has a bladder infection, has two kids, doesn't have daycare," he said. "Is she going to take a day off work to bring her kids to emergency ... when she can just see a pharmacist and have it prescribed on the spot?"

Still, like Yacoub, Singh said he's starting off by only offering prescriptions by appointment.

"Instead of hitting the ground running, we are going to hit the ground jogging."