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NPAA response to publicly-funded pharmacist-led primary care clinics

Articles published this week by CTV Calgary and Lethbridge News NOW highlight a recent move by the Alberta Minister of Health to fund pharmacist-led primary care clinics in southern Alberta. The goal of the initiative is to help address issues with primary care access in this region. Access to a primary care provider (general practitioner-GP, family physician-MD, nurse practitioner-NP) has become a growing crisis across the province, and recent statistics indicate that the number of Albertans lacking access to their own GP is trending towards 1 in 4. The Nurse Practitioner Association of Alberta (NPAA) has been advocating for the use of NPs in primary care for 15 years, especially noting that models of primary care using NPs have been successfully implemented in other Canadian provinces such as BC, ON, and NS as well as in the United States.  Unfortunately, no funding framework to allow for independent NP practice has been adopted in Alberta, preventing NPs from filling this important role.

The NPAA appreciates the government’s attempts to find solutions to the access crisis in Alberta and endorses the value of pharmacists within our healthcare system. Pharmacists are important members of the healthcare team and ensure that Albertans receive medications safely through expert pharmacy dispensing and providers on evidence-based pharmaceutical therapies.

However, pharmacists are not regulated to provide comprehensive primary care in Canada and the provincial pharmacy standards of practice do not support it. Treatment by a pharmacist is meant to ensure continuity of care for medications. Any new prescription or health information collected by a pharmacist must be forwarded to a primary care provider for long-term management. If a person does not have a primary care provider, how does this final step occur?

Pharmacist clinics are an attempt to address an access crisis in our province but don’t get to the heart of what is needed – primary care. Primary care includes assessment, physical exams, diagnosis, as well as preventive medicine such as important health screening, including those for cancer. Completing these screenings, pap smears or prostate exams, for example, require skills that a pharmacist is prohibited from performing according to regulation and practice standards. If left with only a pharmacist clinic as an option, how will women without a primary care provider obtain their pap or mammogram, or primary care for chronic disease? How will men at risk of prostate cancer obtain proper screening from a pharmacist clinic?

The barriers to NP primary care clinics must be removed to allow for true primary care, by a highly trained NP who is regulated and authorized to provide fully independent care at the level required.

Albertans are asking how long they must wait to obtain a primary care provider. NPs have been asking and are still asking, how long must we wait to be allowed to do our jobs, and improve access to care for ALL Albertans?

For more information about Alberta’s access to care crisis, visit To find out more about Nurse Practitioners and the experiences of other Albertans who have been lucky enough to have one as their primary care provider, visit