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Pharmacy changes leave small towns in lurch

Fears of losing the only pharmacy service in Hudson’s Hope have been tempered—at least for now.
Hudson's Hope Mayor Gwen Johannson says her district would have been hit hard if legislative changes for pharmacy training took effect at the end of the year.

Fears of losing the only pharmacy service in Hudson’s Hope have been tempered—at least for now.

The district was facing the possibility of losing the service at the end of the year, when a five-year grace period for pharmacy assistants to meet new legislated training requirements was set to end.

The district of around 1,000 people only has access to a pharmacist  who is only available over the Internet via a telepharmacy program. Losing the service would have forced residents to travel for prescription medicine.

But, facing pressures from rural communities across the province, the College of Pharmacists of B.C. recently extended the grace period to the end of 2016.

“The (telepharmacy) system has worked very well for many years,” said Mayor Gwen Johansson.“People have had access to their medication without having to travel.”

Small communities like Hudson’s Hope often don’t have a resident pharmacist, and rely on telepharmacy instead, where an assistant works under the supervision of a pharmacist in another location.

But the College changed the legislation around training to require a pharmacist or pharmacy technician be on-site to fill prescriptions.

The change was made in 2010, but recognizing it would be difficult for rural communities that rely on the less-qualified pharmacy assistants to meet their medical needs, the college provided a five-year grace period for pharmacy assistants to upgrade their training.

“The key is that we can’t have people in these telepharmacies who are not regulated, who are working with patient files and confidential information, and who obviously have access to narcotics, etc.,” said college spokeswoman Gillian Vrooman.

The deadline was initially set at Dec. 31, 2015, but many communities, including Hudson’s Hope, contacted the college and local politicians urging something be done to preserve their service. In response, enforcement of the new regulations has been put off until Dec. 31, 2016.

“This is a very serious issue for Hudson’s Hope. We have many seniors who are not able to travel to other communities on a regular basis to receive medication,” Johansson told the Alaska Highway News.

“We need the pharmacy to remain open and, given that there have been no problems with the service they have provided, we trust that common sense will prevail and some accommodation will be arrived at.”

The mayor had been in touch with Northern Health, the college, and MLA Pat Pimm, among others.

Alan Williamson, who owns the Hudson’s Hope telepharmacy, had also pressured the college. He urged the affected communities to take action in a letter, pointing to a shortage of technicians in the B.C., and the advanced training required to become one.

“Much like the issues we face in recruiting pharmacists to work in remote areas, the likelihood of recruiting a registered technician remains a significant challenge. I have had several job opportunity ads running since July, and not even one applicant to date,” Williamson said.

“Without a registered technician, your remote Pharmasave telepharmacy will close and your community’s current level of access to safe and trusted pharmacy care... will end,” he said.