Board Chair Claire Ishoy, and Registrar & CEO Bob Nakagawa reflect on the state of pharmacy practice in BC.
We now have 1,505 pharmacies, 6,617 pharmacists and 1,693 pharmacy technicians serving the public in BC.
2020 Was About Doing Our Part
As we reflect on the work we’ve done in 2020, we first want to acknowledge and thank BC’s pharmacists and pharmacy technicians, who did their part to provide safe and effective patient care during these uncertain times. We would also like to recognize and appreciate all of BC’s health professionals, as well as the public, for doing your part to bend the curve and see us through this challenging year.
2020 was unlike any year that we’ve ever experienced. From responding to COVID-19 and the opioid overdose crisis, to taking a stand against racism in our country and our healthcare system, this past year has challenged us both as a health regulator, and as individual members of society. And we are not out of the woods yet, which is why each and every one of us must continue to do our part as we move toward immunization for all British Columbians.
Our role as a regulator hinges on protecting the public by making sure every pharmacist and pharmacy technician in BC is fully qualified and able to provide safe and effective pharmacy care. In 2020, this meant constantly adapting to an ever-changing social landscape. It meant practising physical distancing and wearing masks. It meant dealing with overwhelming quantities of public health information, guidance and recommendations and translating it into tangible strategies for providing high-quality pharmacy care. But most importantly, it meant continuing to do our part as health professionals to honour our duty and responsibility to British Columbians.
Doing Our Part to Respond to COVID-19
It’s now been well over a year since the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, a pandemic and BC’s pharmacists and pharmacy technicians were asked to step up and adapt their practices in new ways to ensure that our health system remained viable and responsive during this extraordinary time.
Throughout 2020, pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have played a vital role in supporting our province’s COVID-19 response efforts on the frontlines by responding to ever-changing safety protocols, upholding the highest standards of safe and ethical pharmacy practice and, most recently, by providing vaccinations to British Columbians as part of BC’s Immunization Plan.
Early in the pandemic, pharmacy professionals were relied upon to provide refills and emergency supplies of medications to patients in an effort to help patients avoid non-essential visits with primary care providers. Many others provided their patients with knowledge and clarity regarding misinformation about unproven therapies for COVID-19. We also saw retired, former, non-practising, and student pharmacists step up to help reduce the strain on our health professionals by applying for temporary registration.
We also recognize the difficult decisions faced by pharmacy managers and owners in addressing potential exposures within their pharmacies and dealing with the strain of staff shortages and self-isolation requirements.
As a regulator, it was vital for us to work closely with the Ministry of Health, Provincial Health Officer, and BC Centre for Disease Control, and other health partners as part of British Columbia’s response to the pandemic. Timely and essential updates and clear expectations for providing safe and ethical pharmacy care were an essential part of our response. We introduced several practice and policy changes in a very short period to support pharmacy professionals in caring for their patients as they adapted to this evolving situation. In implementing these changes, our focus was, and continues to be, on following the principles of Right Touch Regulation , reducing unnecessary strain and giving pharmacists and pharmacy technicians broader flexibility to continue to provide safe and ethical care, while doing their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Doing Our Part to Address the Opioid Overdose Crisis
While COVID-19 captured headlines and, in many ways, changed how we practice both as health professionals and as a regulator, it was not the only health crisis that demanded our attention in 2020.
Since the COVID-19 pandemic was declared a public health emergency in March 2020, our province’s ongoing opioid overdose crisis continued to escalate to unprecedented levels. In total, 1,716 people died of illicit drug overdoses in 2020, a 74% increase over 2019.
Pharmacy regulation in the context of dual public health emergencies meant maintaining British Columbian’s access to controlled drugs and substances for medical treatments and working with partners in the health system to increase access to Opioid Agonist Treatment (OAT) for those with substance use disorder.
To that end, we introduced a number of changes to the delivery requirements for OAT allowing pharmacists to use their professional judgement to deliver drugs to a patient if they feel it is safe, appropriate and in the best interest of the patient to do so. Further to that, we also implemented temporary amendments that allow pharmacists to authorize other regulated health professionals, such as pharmacy technicians, to deliver OAT. Additionally, we also led the development of a new harmonized Controlled Prescription Program form to prevent forgeries and increase patient access to OAT.
Doing Our Part to Combat Systemic Racism
We were also appalled to learn of the extensive evidence of Indigenous-specific racism in BC’s health system, as presented in Dr. Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond’s “In Plain Sight” Report. While these findings were at once both saddening and discouraging for us as a regulator, they also come as no surprise, given what we know about the pervasiveness of racism throughout all facets of society.
These events forced us to consider our role as a regulator and as a voice in public health; to consider the role we play in combatting racism in Canada and North America. To that end, in May 2020, we established a Black Lives Matter Working Group within the College focused on identifying ways that we can reinforce anti-racist perspectives throughout our health system.
In addition to this, we have also been working with Indigenous knowledge keepers and professionals, as well as our fellow health regulators to take immediate action toward dismantling Indigenous-specific racism within BC’s health system and further embed culturally safe practices within all levels of health profession regulation.
We will be guided by Indigenous elders and professionals, the recommendations contained in the In Plain Sight report, and by the legal and ethical requirements to provide respect, dignity and equitable health care for Indigenous people in BC.
While we recognize that the fight against systemic racism in Canada is far from over, we remain confident in, and inspired by, the actions taken by leaders such as Dr. Turpel-Lafond, and the resilience of the BIPOC communities in our country and will continue to support them unconditionally as we move toward a more equitable society.
Beyond this, we continue to make progress toward our Canada Award for Excellence, Innovation and Wellness – Gold Certification, and worked with the Provincial Health Services Authority to enable pharmacies across BC to use CareConnect, an Electronic Health Record offering community pharmacists access to lab values and important patient-centric information to support direct patient care. It is through initiatives like these that we continue to adapt and respond to an ever-changing provincial health landscape, and ensure that we are poised for the future of health profession regulation.
On behalf of the College Board and Staff, we invite you to read our annual report and learn about how the College is working to ensure a high standard of safe and ethical pharmacy care is available to all British Columbians during these challenging times.