Ontario's pharmacists react to the 2016 budget

TORONTO, Feb. 29, 2016 /CNW/ - Changes to pharmacists' scope of practice and to the Ontario Drug Benefit program that were highlighted in Ontario's 2016 budget will go a long way to enabling better access to medications and frontline health services according to Ontario's pharmacists.

In particular, the Ontario Pharmacists Association points out that changes to the publicly funded drug program, which include increasing the low income threshold for seniors and locking in the $2 co-pay for this same group, will help ensure the long-term sustainability of the program. Once fully implemented, a completely redesigned program will compliment pharmacists' efforts to ensure optimal medication use and accessibility.

"Ontario's pharmacists have long advocated for equitable access to needed medications and we look forward to working with the government as it undertakes to redesign the Ontario Public Drug Program," said Dennis Darby, CEO of OPA. "The proposed changes to co-payments and eligibility are good first steps towards a sustainable public program that provides needed services from pharmacists."

Pharmacists across the province are already contributing to government efforts to reduce rates of smoking in the province. Increasing the tobacco tax rate and directing the resulting revenue into increased access to smoking cessation programs is a good first step, and OPA encourages the government to enable access to pharmacist counselling for all Ontario smokers – not just those on the Ontario Drug Benefit program.

"The Ontario Pharmacists Association has been advocating for the government to expand funding for pharmacy-based smoking cessation programs to include all Ontarians who want to quit smoking," says Sean Simpson, Chair of the Board for OPA. "For a small investment in pharmacy services, we would be able to have a significant impact on smoking rates in this province."

Pharmacy-based smoking cessation services were introduced as part of an expanded scope of practice for pharmacists in 2012. Pharmacists were pleased to see that the 2016 budget includes a commitment to exploring the further expansion of pharmacists' scope of practice – a move that will provide patients with more timely and convenient access to frontline healthcare providers. It will also bring Ontario more in line with other provinces which are already making broader use of the skills and knowledge of their pharmacy professionals.

Expanding the number and type of vaccines available at the pharmacy to include travel vaccines will help increase immunization rates in the province, offer greater convenience to Ontarians, and divert non-critical patients away from doctor's offices while creating capacity within the healthcare system. Patients have already proven that they trust pharmacists with vaccination – pharmacists have administered close to three million flu shots since the program was expanded to include pharmacies in 2012.

"Pharmacists are prepared and eager to help administer more vaccines, including those for travel," said Darby. "We look forward to working with the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care on developing an implementation timeline so that pharmacists can begin offering these services to their patients."

The Ontario Pharmacists Association looks forward to working with the government over the coming months to provide additional insight into how this province's pharmacists can contribute toward a stronger and more accessible health system for all Ontarians.

About The Ontario Pharmacists Association

The Ontario Pharmacists Association is committed to evolving the pharmacy profession, and advocating for excellence in practice and patient care. As Canada's largest advocacy organization, and professional development and drug information provider for pharmacists, the Association represents pharmacy professionals across Ontario. By leveraging the unique expertise of pharmacy professionals, enabling them to practice to their fullest potential, and making them more accessible to patients, OPA is working to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the healthcare system.

SOURCE Ontario Pharmacists Association

For further information: Lindsay George, Manager, Communications and Membership, Phone: 416-441-0788 x 4236, Email: lgeorge@opatoday.com

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