Calgary

Budget cuts are hard pill to swallow, say Alberta pharmacists

Under a new deal with the provincial government, a number of fees will be cut and direct funding to pharmacies will be reduced, with some money held back each quarter in order to deal with any budget shortfalls.

Government says plan will save $150M over two years, but there are concerns over patient impacts

Randy Howden, who owns two Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in Calgary, says he's concerned about recent funding cuts. (Jennifer Lee/CBC)

Some Alberta pharmacists are raising the alarm over funding cuts they say will impact patient care.

Under a new deal with the provincial government, a number of fees paid to pharmacists will be cut and direct funding to pharmacies will be reduced, with some money held back each quarter in order to deal with any budget shortfalls. 

"I'm quite concerned about being able to keep up with the care that we've been providing to patients," said Randy Howden, who runs two Medicine Shoppe pharmacies in Calgary. 

He says he spends a lot of time counselling diabetes patients and is facing a 20 per cent fee cut and a cap on the number of times he can bill for patient follow-ups.

"We're looking for some ways to cut some costs. We're looking for some ways to make up lost revenue," said Howden. 

"But I think in many areas of the industry we're going to see some cuts in staff hours and staffing."

$150 million in savings

The province says the new funding structure will save $150 million over the next two years and said current payments were unsustainable. 

A spokesperson for the health minister said that without the new agreement, funding for pharmacies was forecast to rise 12.3 per cent over the next two years. 

"Under this new framework, pharmacists continue to be compensated at a higher rate than their counterparts in other provinces," said Health Minister Sarah Hoffman in a written statement. 

"We thank the Alberta Pharmacists' Association for looking at all the tools available to help achieve $150 million in savings to the health budget while also recognizing the need to ensure Albertans continue to have high quality pharmacy services they can depend on."

'Incredibly disappointing'

Margaret Wing, the CEO of the association, says this is the best deal they could get. 

"This is certainly not the outcome that we had hoped for or expected," she said. "You know, it's incredibly disappointing."

The Alberta College of Pharmacists is also concerned. 

"As a result of the framework, patients may be impacted through longer wait times at pharmacies and the relative ability of pharmacists to spend more time with individuals who have complex health and medication problems," reads a written statement sent to CBC News. 

"We encourage the public to contact the college if they feel the agreement has impacted their access to their pharmacist, or the quality of care they receive from their pharmacist."

Pharmacists held a protest over the cuts in Edmonton last week and are planning another in Calgary on April 19.

With files from Jennifer Lee

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