Big changes are coming to some areas of British Columbia’s beleaguered health-care system, including granting limited powers to pharmacists to prescribe and renew medication as a way to alleviate the strain on family doctors.
Starting Oct. 14, pharmacists will be able to administer more vaccines and renew prescriptions for a limited time for people who have lost their family doctor. By next spring, they will be able to prescribe drugs for minor ailments like urinary tract infections, allergies, acne and indigestion, along with contraception.
Health Minister Adrian Dix also announced 128 new seats at the province’s only doctor training program at the University of British Columbia medical school and an expanded scope of practice for paramedics and first responders.
B.C.’s health-care crisis has been brought into sharp focus this past year with staff shortages closing emergency rooms in rural communities and ever-expanding wait times for urgent and specialized care. Nearly a million people in the province do not have a family doctor.
The changes announced Thursday are part of a greater five-year plan to address ongoing problems in the health-care system.
“The goal is to deliver the care for patients that patients in our province deserve,” said Dix.
The president of the B.C. Pharmacy Association said pharmacists in the province do not need additional training to implement the changes.
“We’ve been trained to do much more than we’ve been able to do for a long time,” said Jamie Wigston.
Dix said the new powers match those already in place in Alberta pharmacies.
Starting in fall 2023, the UBC faculty of medicine will open 40 new seats, with another 40 added in 2024. An additional 48 residency positions to accommodate the expanded undergraduate program will be phased in by fall 2028.
According to Dix, 90 per cent of all doctors who graduate in B.C. remain in the province.
Expanded functions announced for first responders are supposed to provide better patient care and help relieve pressure on hospital emergency departments.
Ambulance paramedics will soon have the capacity to practice expanded life support and pain management procedures currently not included in their scope of practice.
First responders like firefighters will receive training for blood pressure and blood glucose testing, administering epinephrine for serious allergic reactions and preparing patients for transport by paramedics.
The report outlines a number of ways to better train, recruit and retain health-care personnel, including streamlining how international nurses get into the system and establishing clear workload standards to prevent worker burnout.
Dix said B.C. needs to compete for health-care workers in the global marketplace with demand for services in the province expected to grow by 14 per cent by 2032.
“There’s no one magic bullet to turn around the system to what we need,” he said.