Shortage of pharmacists: a lack of manpower that makes us fear the worst

Shortage of pharmacists: a feared lack of manpower the worst


With a shortage of 700 pharmacists in Quebec, their Order is concerned about the risk of error among its highly stressed members and asks Quebecers to be patient to get a drug.

“The era of fast pharmacy is over, warns the president of the Order of Pharmacists of Quebec (OPQ), Bertrand Bolduc. People have waited 7 p.m. in the emergency room and they think they will wait 10 minutes at the pharmacy, the answer is no. It might take an hour. »

The labor shortage that is shaking all of Quebec is also hitting pharmacies hard. Mr. Bolduc points out that there is a shortage of at least 200 pharmacists in hospitals, 200 in long-term care centers (CHSLDs), and that he could place 300 “tomorrow morning” in the 2,000 pharmacies in the province. . 

More tired, less attentive

And for the technical assistants, the shortfall is downright double.

“Does this increase the risk? he asks. It worries us a bit. Quite honestly, the shortage makes people more tired, less attentive. So, you have to be careful.

This summer, half a dozen pharmacists were blamed for serious errors in prescriptions given to patients, including one fatal (see below). 

“We sent a newsletter to the members to say: 'look at what is happening'”, he specifies.

< p>Already in 2019, a trustee of the Order described errors in prescriptions as a “scourge in the profession”, before the Disciplinary Council. 

Reduced hours

Mr. Bolduc points out that many pharmacies are reducing their opening hours and that it will no longer be surprising to come up against closed doors as of 6 p.m. in several regions.

He asks Quebecers to online renewal applications or to make an appointment for a consultation, for example.

“Help us help you”, he says. 

A prescription could be delivered to the house in the evening with a call to explain the dosage or just be ready the next day, he says.

“The rapid is over,” repeats Mr. Bolduc. We can no longer deliver quickly with everything we are asked to do. Consultations, prescription extensions [for people unable to see a doctor], front-line access counters that will redirect people to pharmacies. »

Citing the example of vaccination in pharmacies, which made it possible to give three million doses against COVID-19, the president indicates that during the time spent vaccinating, the pharmacist cannot fill a prescription.


A 75-year-old senior died of a hemorrhage after taking two anticoagulant drugs at the same time, received by mistake from a pharmacy in Montreal in January 2020. 

Before the Disciplinary Board of the OPQ, Joëlle Fares, who worked at the Sonia Boutin Pharmacy on Gouin Boulevard, admitted to having lacked vigilance.

“She admits that she did not push her validation of the prescription any further. She did not check the pharmaceutical profile […]. She did not question the simultaneous prescription of two anticoagulants,” reads the judgment. 

In addition, she expected that the staff of the CHSLD, where the patient, make the necessary checks.

Following hospitalization, the patient had to take an initial anticoagulant for a month, then another. However, the CHSLD nurse, in noting the doctor's prescription, omitted to specify the dates for the change of medication. 

She was fined $4,500 in June. In shock, Ms. Fares says she reduced her hours at less busy pharmacies so she could do her job better. 


A 37-year-old man with kidney and heart failure received the wrong medication nine times from five different pharmacists, in Montreal in 2020.

After more than six months without the prescribed medication, the patient was hospitalized. He was then suffering from high blood pressure, severe abdominal pain from an abscess and an infection all the way through the dialysis catheter.

The doctors then discovered that he was taking dexamethasone rather than doxazosin. The first is an anti-inflammatory drug, from the cortisone family, while the one that was prescribed is used to lower blood pressure.

According to the expert report presented to the Disciplinary Council of the 'OPQ, there is “no real similarity” between the two drugs.

“[…] This conduct does not correspond to the expected level with regard to the gathering of information, the assessment of the order and the analysis of the situation, and the recording of information in the file”, perhaps we read.

Pharmacist Parastoo Karimi Alavijeh made the first mistake in November 2019. She then renewed the erroneous prescription. Then, his Tin Wai colleagues Wendy Ngan, Christian Phan, Laura Ginefri and Belinda Duc Lam repeated the blunder until July 2020. They were fined between $5,000 and $9,500 last month.

Three of them have since left the pharmacy on Van Horne Avenue in Montreal for a less stressful and busy environment. All expressed regret.

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