Canadian Pharmacists Association
Canadian Pharmacists Association

More than one million Canadian women continue to face barriers accessing birth control and other health care services

Strong support across the country for pharmacists to help improve access

March 6, 2020 (Ottawa):  More than one million Canadian women continue to face barriers accessing birth control and other health care services. Barriers cited include long clinic wait times, difficulty getting to a clinic during hours convenient to them, not having a family physician, and the clinic being too far away.  

According to a survey commissioned by the Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA), 7% of women who have experience using prescription-based birth control say they have difficulties getting a prescription or renewing one, and this increases to 14% among those women 18 to 29.  That means over one million Canadian women continue to face obstacles when managing their reproductive health.

“Although the ‘pill’ has been around for about 60 years, it’s unfortunate that, in 2020, Canadian women still face hurdles accessing this and other essential forms of health care," said Christine Hrudka, pharmacist and Chair of the Canadian Pharmacists Association. “For many women, pharmacies are the closest point of access and we can provide excellent care while filling these gaps for our patients.”

One solution is pharmacist prescribing and renewals. There is strong support across the country for pharmacists to be another access point for renewing and prescribing oral contraceptives (80% and 72% respectively), and a large majority of women (73%) believe this would result in better access to birth control. Despite this support, pharmacists in only four Canadian provinces (AB, SK, QC, and NS) can prescribe birth control to varying degrees.

Access issues for women go beyond birth control to include other women’s health issues, like urinary tract infections (UTI), with 7% of women also saying it is difficult to get medical treatment for a UTI – something that nearly half of all women will experience by the time they are in their early 30s.

Women recognize and support the role pharmacists can play to improve access to these health care services:

  • 87% of women support pharmacists being able to independently offer services for UTI assessment and treatment
  • 88% trust pharmacists to assess and prescribe treatments for ailments common to women like UTIs, yeast infections, painful periods, and menopause
  • 77% believe pharmacists assessing and prescribing treatment for UTIs would result in freeing up physician time to tackle other problems
  •  A majority of women cite faster access to care, greater convenience, and better or equal quality care when seeing a pharmacist for common women’s health issues

Similar to birth control, pharmacists in many provinces aren’t authorized to assess and prescribe for UTIs, despite the mounting evidence highlighting the value to our health care system. Even if only 25% of Canadians with uncomplicated UTIs were managed by community pharmacists over the next 5 years, it would save our health care system an estimated $51 million.

Beth Kessler, a pharmacist in Regina, SK, where pharmacists are permitted to prescribe and assess for both birth control and UTIs, says it is very gratifying to help women have easier access to these services: “UTIs are common infections that are landing women in clinics, when many can be easily treated in the pharmacy. Also, women are spending a lot of time waiting in doctor’s offices to renew their birth control prescriptions, which is often something they’ve been using for many years. When these women are told that we can take care of their birth control prescription or treat their UTIs in the pharmacy, the look of relief on their face shows the importance of easy, timely access to these women’s health services.”

Even with strong support for pharmacists using their full scope for prescribing and assessing, Canadian woman are at the mercy of their postal code. CPhA continues to call for equity across the country when it comes to allowing pharmacists to practice to the full extent of their expertise to improve access to primary health care services.

About the Canadian Pharmacists Association
The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPhA) is the uniting national voice of pharmacy and the pharmacist profession in Canada. As pharmacists undertake an enhanced role in the delivery of health care services, CPhA ensures that the profession is recognized as a national leader in health care, influencing the policies, programs, budgets and initiatives affecting the profession and the health of Canadians.