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Haggie offers mea culpa to pharmacists

Health Minister John Haggie speaks to reporters Thursday in St. John’s. TELEGRAM PHOTO
Health Minister John Haggie speaks to reporters Thursday in St. John’s. TELEGRAM PHOTO
ST. JOHN'S, N.L. —

Health Minister John Haggie issued a public apology to pharmacists Thursday after getting an earful for comments he made at the previous day’s news briefing about the COVID-19 pandemic.

“If what I said yesterday bugged you as a pharmacist, please accept my apologies. That was not my intention,” he said at the daily update on the COVID-19 crisis in Newfoundland and Labrador.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Pharmacy Board recently asked pharmacists to limit prescriptions to 30-days’ worth at most. Many prescriptions are filled for 90 days.

The measure was put in place because the supply of some drugs has been uncertain, and the board wanted to avoid the possibility of running out due to limited supplies and hoarding.

On Wednesday, Haggie said he had heard nothing about supply issues from wholesalers.

That was incorrect.

“The best way I can describe the situation currently is, at best, it’s confusing,” he said.

Earlier in the day, the executive director of the Pharmacy Association of Newfoundland and Labrador said supplies have been unreliable.

“Pharmacies are placing orders for medications and are not being able to get a fraction of what they are requesting,” Jennifer Collingwood told The Telegram. “A fraction of what they would normally be able to get from the wholesalers.

"Nothing has changed since the pharmacy board issued a directive to limit the 30-day supply for medication.”

Among items that may be running low are Ventolin inhalers, although there’s been no indication of a shortage from the manufacturer.

A call to GlaxoSmithKline was not returned Thursday,

Collingwood said pharmacists are under a lot of pressure, and are getting flak from customers who don’t understand why the cap was placed on renewals.

“It is putting quite a bit of extra strain on our pharmacists. They are working extremely long hours. They’re very stressed out. They have no appropriate (personal protective equipment) for themselves, either.”

Customers are advised to call ahead about what they can and cannot get renewed, she said.

“We really want to limit the foot traffic coming in and out of the pharmacies.”

At the news briefing, Haggie echoed that advice.

”I would encourage anybody who has a question about their medication and supply to speak to their pharmacists,” he said. “People should listen to their pharmacist.”

However, he said he hopes to work toward a solution that would only target those drugs that are of primary concern.

Meanwhile, Premier Dwight Ball said local pharmacists are not alone in their supply concerns.

“What I’m hearing is that other provinces are having to deal with this as well.”

Peter Jackson is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering health care for The Telegram.

peter.jackson@thetelegram.com

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