New Brunswick pharmacists urge plans to divert some patients from hospital ERs

Posted Jan. 30, 2013, at 4 p.m.

FREDERICTON, New Brunswick — The province’s pharmacists are pointing to plans in other parts of Canada to divert patients from using emergency rooms in hopes that similar moves can be adopted in New Brunswick.

Paul Blanchard, executive director of the New Brunswick Pharmacists’ Association, said governments in Saskatchewan and Nova Scotia have looked to invest savings from generic drug price regulations back into minor ailment programs that are geared toward redirecting patients from emergency rooms.

The plans seek to use pharmacies to stop patients from using ERs to treat non-urgent minor ailments.

“We think that this initiative aligns itself well with the health resources that are available in communities and in matching the needs of New Brunswickers,” Blanchard said. “All New Brunswickers can find a pharmacy within their community.

“Pharmacies are open early and stay open late in most New Brunswick communities.”

Data the New Brunswick Health Council have collected shows patients with a triage level of “less urgent” or “non-urgent” made up more than 63 percent of all visits to the province’s ERs in 2011-12.

Health Minister Ted Flemming has said he hopes a system of new community health centers will help stem the tide of New Brunswickers turning to the emergency room for treatment, adding that the province’s pharmacists could also help displace the burden.

Flemming has also made the statement that New Brunswick’s emergency room coverage would remain similar if nearly one-third of the province’s ERs were shut down.

Quoting numbers he said were provided to him by the Office of Health System Renewal — a separate bureau created to find ways of cutting costs and develop efficiencies in health care — Flemming said removing seven of the province’s 22 emergency rooms would make little difference to access.

“A significant number of New Brunswickers who are using emergency room services to treat minor ailments could potentially be seen by a pharmacist instead,” Blanchard said. “They are qualified to deal with these issues, yet are frequently overlooked by government officials, since they work in the private sector.

“Emergency room resources should be reserved for true emergencies.”

Saskatchewan’s pharmacists have been approved to prescribe medication for ailments that include cold sores, insect bites, oral thrush, diaper rash, canker sores, urinary tract infections and some allergic reactions.

Roughly 48,000 Saskatchewan residents used the pharmacist prescribing service over a six-month span last year, according to the province’s Ministry of Health.

Susan Wedlake, registrar of the Nova Scotia College of Pharmacists, also said Friday that Nova Scotian pharmacists are now permitted to write prescriptions independently for minor ailments.

Wedlake said that ability was granted last year, but has been slow to roll out after regulatory requirements mandated pharmacies to provide a private counseling room to meet privately with patients, which most establishments didn’t have.

Still, Wedlake said the move to increase the responsibility of pharmacists fills a need.

“We’re encouraging this to happen because the reason we started this whole initiative is that there are gaps in the health care system,” she said. “For the public to access health care, it was just getting tougher and tougher.”

Blanchard said the idea has been discussed with the former Health Minister Madeleine Dube but that pending changes in the province’s health system presents a new prospect to move the idea forward.

“It has certainly been pitched, but there’s a new minister and a new opportunity to bring new ideas to the table,” he said.

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