Pharmacist – If government cuts are implemented, say goodbye to the level of service you're used to receiving at your local pharmacy

Originally published in The Toronto Star April 13th, 2010. To go to The Toronto Star website, please click here

Ontario’s pharmacists are proud of the role we play in front-line patient care.

From seniors and patients with chronic illness to moms and dads with small children at home – and everyone in between – local pharmacists are often the first entry point into the health-care system.

As a local pharmacist in Oshawa, I find it disappointing that Ontario Health Minister Deb Matthews doesn’t understand or value the vital role that pharmacists play in providing health care.

The massive health-care funding cuts announced last week by the McGuinty government will limit access to the care pharmacists now provide to patients and jeopardize the new health services they would otherwise have provided in the future.

These cuts put at risk the services that 13 million people in Ontario rely upon daily and ultimately it is Ontario’s most vulnerable that will bear the burden of the government’s latest health-care cut.

On average, the funding cuts remove the equivalent of three pharmacists from every pharmacy in Ontario.

It also means pharmacies will have no reasonable option but to reduce hours — and in many cases, close altogether.

The impact of this will be felt in every corner of the province, but particularly in rural and remote areas where the local pharmacist is often the only health professional within many kilometres.

What the government fails to recognize is that most pharmacies in Ontario are owner-operated small businesses.

Funding cuts to community pharmacies will have a direct and severe impact on these small businesses that deliver one-on-one neighbourhood health care.

Pharmacists pride ourselves on being able to help a worried parent who calls or comes in at 2 a.m. looking for advice and medication to treat a sick child at home.

Those same pharmacists help the government’s own TeleHealth system answer medication questions in the middle of the night.

We value the relationships we develop with patients who have chronic illnesses – such as heart disease, diabetes and breathing problems – and seniors who regularly come to us for advice on how to manage pain and ongoing health issues.

Pharmacists help all of these patients stay out of our already overburdened hospitals.

We fear the cuts announced last week mean we won’t be able to be there for our patients – or for our families and friends who are patients.

It is for these reasons that pharmacists all across our province have spoken out so forcefully.

While health minster Matthews has favoured rhetoric in this debate, saying “the days of artificially high drug prices, paid on the backs of patients and taxpayers are gone,” in reality her government is pursuing a reckless, damaging initiative to reduce its deficit on the backs of patients in our communities.

These cuts will mean one thing: reduced neighbourhood health care services.

The level of service you’re used to receiving at your local pharmacy will be a thing of the past if the McGuinty government’s funding cuts are implemented.