Health Minister Ted Flemming is encouraging New Brunswickers to get a flu shot from their pharmacist rather than a doctor.

Ted Flemming

Health Minister Ted Flemming says turning to pharmacists for a flu shot helps health care by letting doctors focus on treating other patients. (CBC)

Flemming received his flu shot from a pharmacist in Fredericton on Tuesday and said doing so benefits the entire health system.

"When you take something like this, it shortens the line," said Flemming. "It gets people to the family physicians.

"If the family physician isn't doing as many flu shots, he's seeing patients in other issues, which again shortens the line and provides better access to primary health care."

Flu shots cost $21.50 at a pharmacy, but  is free to many groups, including seniors, children, those with chronic health conditions, health-care workers, and those on the provincial health plan. Medicare covers the shots when given by a family doctor.

Pharmacist Ron Jackson says it's an easier process to get a flu shot at a pharmacy than getting an appointment with a doctor.

"We're available walk-in, without appointments," he said. "We're there nights, weekends, holidays.

"I know yesterday a number of our patients got their flu shot," said Jackson. "The uptake has already been very good. And at the end of the day, the more people we can get immunized against the flu, the better everybody is."

This is the fourth year flu shot have been available from the pharmacists in New Brunswick. Jackson says the service is growing in popularity.

"From year two to year three, it would be double the number of patients that we immunized for flu," said Jackson. "You'll see we've been promoting the idea, the concept of getting a flu shot.

"We're accessible, available and our patients absolutely love it."

Ron Jackson

Pharmacist Ron Jackson could soon be treating minor ailments that are now handled in a doctor's office. (CBC)

The New Brunswick Pharmacists Association wants to do more things of this nature, said executive director Paul Blanchard.

Legislation being drafted for the upcoming sitting of the Legislature would allow pharmacists to treat minor ailments.

"Primarily, people will have a tendency to self-treat," said Blanchard. "So, cough, colds, earache, the far end of that would be like an uncomplicated or recurring urinary tract infection.

"So those things are things that we think pharmacists are qualified to help with and hopefully, the new legislation will enable broader scope of practice and will enable pharmacists to provide greater service in those instances."

While the health minister applauds giving more powers to pharmacists to take some of the weight and expense off the medicare system, the New Brunswick Medical Society is more cautious. It wants to see the details of the new Pharmacy Act before it decides whether to support pharmacists taking over some of the tasks now done only by physicians.