The Government will likely have to intervene to amend the law to allow pharmacies to continue to dispense medication as a rift over membership fees between the Pharmacy Board and its members remain unresolved, even as pharmacists' practising certificates and licences to operate expired on Saturday.
A statement issued by the country's largest business lobby group, the TT Chamber of Industry and Commerce, on Saturday expressed grave concern about what it considers the “current dilemma” confronting the Pharmacy Board in its ability to effectively grant certificates and licences to pharmacists and pharmacies.
On Friday, attorneys for Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh instructed the Pharmacy Board’s president and treasurer Andrew Rahaman to sign, seal and deliver all practising certificates to the registrar of the board’s council so that they can be issued to pharmacists who have paid their fees for the year.
The letter warned of the “impact upon the national health system if pharmacists (who have paid the annual retention fee of $150) did not have their practising certificates issued to them by Saturday.
The minister’s attorneys said they were prepared to approach the High Court for an injunction to secure compliance by midnight on Saturday.
But in a statement on Saturday, the chamber referred to a recent newspaper article which reported that the Pharmacy Board had encountered several bureaucratic challenges, which have resulted in delays pertaining to license applications.
“The TT Chamber notes the critical role that pharmacies and pharmacists in TT play in the dispensing of medicaments, which are vital to the wellbeing of the population. They can only do so if they are in receipt of the necessary certificates to practice which expire on 14 January 2023.”
The Pharmacy Board is responsible for the issuing of licences.
The chamber, in its statement, further urged all stakeholders responsible for ensuring that pharmacies and pharmacists in the private and public health care system function within the law, to resolve the matter expeditiously.
“It is of paramount importance that pharmacies and pharmacists be able to perform their professional duties of dispensing medicaments to the population legally and we expect that good sense will prevail,” it added.
Contacted by Sunday Newsday for a further response on the issue, chamber president Charles Pashley would only say, “The chamber would like to ensure all stakeholders, the Pharmacy Board, the Minister of Health and the Attorney General (Reginald Armour, SC) are all working together to ensure our pharmacists and our pharmacies can lawfully remain open to dispense medicament to the population.
“This may require the Attorney General making amendments via legal notice to extend the expiration dates of the respective practising certificates and licenses under the Pharmacy Act.”
Pashley suggested that the expiration date should be extended to June 30.
“This will give the Pharmacy Board president and the members time to work through their administrative and financial issues.”
In its statement, the chamber had outlined the Pharmacy Board’s fee structure for pharmacists as stated in the Pharmacy Board Act, Chapter 29: 52, Pharmacy Board Regulations, Practice Certificate 15:
(1) Every person who is registered as a pharmacist under the Act and who intends to practise or conduct any business as a pharmacist in TT in any year shall on or before 15th January of that year pay to the registrar a fee (referred to below as “the annual retention fee”) in the amount prescribed at Item (f) in the second schedule.
(2) Upon the payment of the annual retention fee, the registrar shall issue a certificate (in this regulation referred to as a “practising certificate”) in the form set out as Form H in the first schedule authorising the pharmacist named therein to practise as a pharmacist during the year indicated in the practising certificate.
(3) A pharmacist may not practise except while holding a valid and subsisting practising certificate which certificate shall remain in force until 14th January next following the calendar year for which it was issued.
But attorney Vishma Jaisingh, of the law firm Fitzwilliam, Stone, Furness-Smith and Morgan, in the letter to Rahaman, said pharmacists were advised to pay a fee higher than the $150 annual retention fee for their practising certificates, which was deemed illegal and ultra vires the Pharmacy Board Act.
Rahaman was instructed to print and deliver all practising certificates for January 15, 2023 – January 14, 2024, for those pharmacists who had paid their $150 fee.
Jaisingh said Deyalsingh had received complaints from pharmacists that they had paid their annual renewal registration fee but not received their certificates.
Contacted for comment, Rahaman did not want to respond immediately, but said he intends to schedule a news conference tentatively for Sunday at the Pharmacy Board’s headquarters in Port of Spain.