Expanding scope for pharmacists, paramedics, nurses on the table as Sask. holds consultations
Some health-care professionals in Saskatchewan could be tasked with added responsibilities in an effort to improve services in the province.
According to a news release Thursday, the Ministry of Health will begin consultations in the coming weeks to possibly expand the scope of pharmacists, nurse practitioners and advanced care paramedics.
Changes could include allowing paramedics to stitch minor wounds or cuts — rather than transporting to the emergency department — and allowing nurse practitioners to admit and discharge patients in hospitals.
There's also potential for pharmacists to independently prescribe.
"Empowering our highly educated health-care professionals to utilize all of their knowledge and skills will ensure patients have greater choice and more timely access to health services," Health Minister Paul Merriman said in the release.
The province stated the proposed changes could benefit patients by creating shorter wait times for primary care and having more options to access certain health-care services.
According to the province, consultations will include regulatory bodies, associations, unions and health system partners, and will take several weeks.
In an emailed statement to CBC News, Saskatchewan rural and remote health critic Matt Love took aim at the provincial government's health-care management over the last 15 years.
"Our health system is hanging on by a thread. This government should be working day and night to explore all possible solutions," Love said.
"These ideas could be promising, but thorough consultation is needed to ensure the positives outweigh the possible unintended consequences."
Love suggested the government take action that health-care workers have publicly called for, such as providing stabilization funding to support family doctors and clinics and reviewing the fee-for-service model.
Labour, nurses unions welcome consultation
Lori Johb, president of the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour, told CBC News Thursday she is most encouraged by the province consulting directly with workers.
"We've been calling for this forever. Long before the pandemic, but especially during the pandemic," Johb said.
"Having input into what we drastically need now, which is solutions, will ripple right through the system. Patients are going to feel better, families are going to feel better."
Tracy Zambory, president of the Saskatchewan Union of Nurses, said she fully supports expanding the scope of nurse practitioners and registered nurses.
"A nurse practitioner, and a registered nurse with the authorized advanced practice, can be the answer in many communities in rural Saskatchewan," Zambory said.
She noted that SUN would like their members to have even more opportunities than the aforementioned allowance to admit and discharge patients.
"The ability to do some more diagnosing, to be able to sign off on death certificates, to be the people that are actually in charge of our long-term care facilities," Zambory said.
Zambory confirmed the union will take part in consultations with the province on Feb. 13.
Pharmacist, paramedic groups also ready to talk
The Saskatchewan Association of Pharmacists supports the province in possibly allowing its 1,700 members to independently prescribe.
"To say you can go to your pharmacist to renew your prescription without going to to a doctor first, or in some cases initiate the prescription with the pharmacist," said association CEO Michael Fougere.
"We can help people out because there definitely is a concern about the quality of health care right around the country and every province is going through the same type of review."
Fougere said if consultations result in changes, the first step will be public education and discussion. He added the province of Alberta already allows pharmacists to prescribe.
Saskatchewan has around 300 advanced care paramedics, all of whom are trained to suture.
However, like most jurisdictions, the province doesn't allow stitching of minor wounds in the standard scope of practice.
Jacquie Messer-Lepage, the executive director and registrar for the Saskatchewan College of Paramedics, said the change would be a good use of existing resources.
"There are other opportunities that exist within the ACP training that certainly the ministry may consider putting on the table. At this point, it's hard to predict what it might be," Messer-LePage said.
"We have to hold the line at making sure that the services are high quality and that the practitioners are competent. We are certainly interested in in exploring what the potential is."
The province added that as it explores ways to enhance health services, it might consider more ways to optimize and expand the scope of other health professionals.