POOR remuneration packages, the shortage of pharmacists in the public sector and the contravention of local and international standards were just some of the issues that caused members of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica (PSJ) to go into mourning yesterday.
The PSJ, which has been representing pharmacists in both the public and private sector since 1980, said members were particularly concerned that pharmacy technicians were being made to dispense and compound medication to the public in the absence of qualified pharmacists in some of the island’s health centres. Members of the group yesterday wore black to register their dissatisfaction.
Dressed in black, president of the Pharmaceutical Society of Jamaica (PSJ) Valerie Germain and second vice-president Ainsley Jones confer during yesterday’s press conference at the PSJ office in Kingston. (Photo: Bryan Cummings)
“What we have seen is that because of the shortages of registered pharmacists, many facilities, particularly health centres, have pharmacy technicians operating on their own without the supervision of registered pharmacists,” president of the PSJ Valerie Germain said during a press conference at the group’s head office off Lady Musgrave Road in Kingston.
Germain said that they were currently no registered pharmacist in St Mary and only one each in the parishes of St Thomas, Westmoreland and Clarendon.
The group pointed out that the use of the pharmacy technicians, who are only trained for a year, as substitutes for pharmacists who are trained for five years, violated the local Pharmacy Act and Regulations, which stipulates that pharmacy technicians should work under the supervision of pharmacists. International standards usually require one pharmacist to about four technicians.
“So the technicians working on their own is a breach of the legislation and international standards and we have asked the Ministry and we are again asking the Ministry to desist in this practice,” Germain said.
Currently there are 750 pharmacists registered in Jamaica, but the PSJ believes the Government has not been able to retain many of them because of the poor working conditions and remuneration packages in the public sector. Of the 150 posts for registered pharmacists in the Ministry of Health, only about 45 of them are filled.
The PSJ believes implementing one standard practice for both public and private sector is one of the ways Government can get more pharmacists in the public sector. Currently private sector pharmacists are monitored and face sanctions for going against established guidelines and are according to Germain paid three times the amount being paid to those in the public sector.
“Many pharmacists are very interested — despite the gap in the salary — they are interested in working in the public sector, but what they will not accept is the poor remuneration along with the working conditions and the lack of standards. Those three things together, have pulled pharmacists away from the public sector,” she said.
The PSJ said it has made several recommendations to the Government to improve the working conditions of pharmacists in the public sector. These include improving the staffing and storage areas for pharmaceuticals, providing computerised and inventory management system as well as sterile lab areas and fume cupboards for the preparation of toxic substances. However, the group said they have not gotten a favourable response from the ministry.
The group said their primary concern was for members of the public who have had to wait in long lines for medication or go elsewhere because they are not available.
“At the end of the day it is the patient who suffers when they stand for long hours, when sometimes the drug is not there and when you don’t have the right persons filling and even if you have the right persons filling the prescriptions, you don’t have enough of them to really make a difference,” said second vice- president for the PSJ Ainsley Jones.