As of today (June 1), people in B.C. can get prescriptions for contraceptives and medications to treat some minor ailments directly from their pharmacist, in a move the provincial government said will expand access to pharmacists, and healthcare in general.

B.C. residents with a Personal Health Number (PHN) can visit a pharmacy in person, or call to schedule an appointment, to receive advice and treatment on 21 minor ailments such as allergies, shingles, cold sores, pink eye, and uncomplicated urinary tract infections. The province said in a release that through the new service, B.C. pharmacists can make an assessment of the patient’s presenting symptoms, check their medical history, and recommend an appropriate treatment, which may include self-care advice, over-the-counter medications, or prescription medications. 

“Community pharmacists are here and ready to help people in B.C. when they need it,” said Chris Chiew, president of the BC Pharmacy Association. “Across the province, thousands of pharmacists are eager to support patients by using our expertise and training to increase access to care. Pharmacists are one of the most accessible health-care providers in B.C., and we are here for patients when they need us for the treatment of a minor ailment, a prescription for contraception or ensuring they have the medications they need.”

Patients whose ailments are deemed ‘non-minor’ may also be advised to see another health-care provider, if there are other concerns warranting further exams by a doctor or nurse practitioner. B.C.’s health minister, Adrian Dix, said the change should take pressure off primary care providers.

“We are delivering on our commitment to give pharmacists the power to provide prescriptions,” said Dix in a release. “This not only makes it easier and faster for patients to access these services, it also takes pressure off the primary-care providers and our public health-care system as a whole.”

Dix announced last October an expansion of pharmacists’ scope of practice, allowing them to adapt and renew prescriptions for a wider range of drugs and conditions, along with the ability to administer a wider range of drugs by injection or intranasally further to a prescription. The change in scope comes as a part of the Health Human Resources Strategy, announced on Sept. 29, 2022. The strategy includes 70 different points to recruit, train and retain healthcare workers while redesigning and improving the province’s healthcare system.

Pharmacist Blaine Martens, co-owner of Black’s Pharmacy in Merritt, sees the change as a positive for those who often must wait hours in the emergency room for basic ailments requiring simple prescriptions.

“It’s definitely a step forward for pharmacies in B.C., and hopefully better care for patients, that’s the idea,” said Martens. 

Residents with a PHN can now access Black’s four pharmacists for treatment advice and possible prescriptions for minor ailments, given that they self diagnose or have an idea of what their ailment is first and have a pharmacist confirm. Different pharmacists have different strengths in their competencies, but all of them will undergo new training that accompanies the change and covers the basic ailments included in the change.

“Obviously, we have to go through a person’s history and make sure that something doesn’t present any red flags, or that this minor ailment is not masking a more serious problem,” added Martens. “We need to make sure that if we prescribe something that its not actually going to put them in further harm by not getting the proper healthcare professional’s treatment.” 

To learn more about the new change for pharmacists, and to see which minor ailments are covered, visit the BCPharmaCare site.