Deyalsingh gives pharmacists green light to give drugs

File photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.
File photo: Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh.

A THREE-DAY stalemate over expired practising certificates for pharmacists to operate received a balm late Monday with news that Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh had signed regulations to extend their validity.

On Friday, Ministry of Health attorneys wrote to the Pharmacy Board to demand it issue certificates to all pharmacists who had paid their fees. By Saturday, the TT Chamber of Commerce had urged that pharmacies be allowed to carry out their vital role of dispensing drugs.

On Sunday the ministry, in a statement, said that as January 15 fell on a Sunday, pharmacists had until Monday to pay their fees.

That statement alleged the Pharmacy Board council had refused to promise to comply with the law and issue practising certificates. It said the ministry would make regulations to temporarily extend the life of all practising certificates previously issued to pharmacists for January 15, 2022 to January 14, 2023, to a sufficient period, such that "the system of health care in the country was not compromised by the council’s failure to issue renewal practising certificates for the period January 15, 2023 to January 14, 2024."

On Monday morning, Pharmacy Board president Andrew Rahaman said at a news conference that Deyalsingh could easily solve the imbroglio by simply recognising as valid, the signature of outgoing secretary/registrar Sue-Ann Joseph on documents. He said this would be simpler than amending the Pharmacy Act in Parliament.

The news conference was held at the board's office at the Professional Centre, Fitzblackman Drive, Port of Spain.

Deyalsingh, in an immediate response, told Newsday by WhatsApp, "I will not be engaged in a public tit-for-tat with Mr Rahaman.

"To protect the public interest, I will speak when we have a legal solution to the matter as advised by the attorneys."

By Monday evening, the ministry issued a statement headlined “Non-issuance of practising certificates to pharmacists.”

It said the ministry acknowledged public concerns about "the failure of the Council of the Pharmacy Board of TT, to issue practising certificates for the period January 15, 2023–January 14, 2024 to pharmacists who have duly paid their annual retention fees."

The ministry assured the public of measures taken to ensure no disruption of pharmaceutical services in either the public or the private health sectors.

Pharmacy Board president Andrew Rahaman at Monday's news conference at the board's office at the Professional Centre Building, Wrightson Road Extension, Port of Spain. Photo by Sureash Cholai

Earlier on Monday, Rahaman again advocated for an increase of the fees for certificates to help properly fund the board's operations and to be on par with registration fees for medical doctors and nurses.

On Friday attorney Vishma Jaisingh, representing Deyalsingh, wrote to Rahaman saying pharmacists were advised to pay a fee higher than the $150 annual retention fee for their practising certificates, and this was deemed to be illegal and in breach of the Pharmacy Board Act.

Rahaman was instructed to print and deliver all practising certificates for January 15, 2023 – January 14, 2024 to the pharmacists who paid the $150 fee.

Rahaman assured that as a responsible organisation, the board would not take any pharmacists to court while the brouhaha was being straightened out.

Regarding the secretary/registrar's signature, Rahaman said the board still regarded Joseph as occupant of that position because no-one had replaced her at the board's latest election, even though she had not offered herself for re-election. In this, he cited the Pharmacy Board Act section 10(3).

"An officer of the council shall hold office as long as he is a member of the council, but if he ceases to be a member of the council by reason only of effluxion of time, he shall continue in office pending the election of a successor unless in the meantime the council has resolved that the office be abolished."

Rahaman later told Newsday, "I'd like to see the minister send and tell me he is accepting the secretary/registrar so we could prepare the documents. If he doesn't accept it, I have to find a way to get a new one (secretary/registrar) appointed."

He also said the ministry's two representatives on the Pharmacy Board were not available to attend meetings to name a new secretary/registrar.

Urging the ministry's support for the board to increase its fees, Rahaman highlighted the board's financial challenges by showing reports of a lack of facilities like air-conditioning, typewriter or fridge.

He said a sum previously allocated to have been legitimately paid to him had since been spent on paying the board's office rent. This meant he had to go into the legal profession full-time to earn a livelihood, thereby reducing his hours working each to process pharmacy applications for 14 hours to two hours.

Rahaman said out of TT's 600 pharmacists, he had contacted about 200 of whom about 90 per cent had agreed to pay the board a voluntary contribution higher than the pharmacist licence fees, towards helping the board meet its costs.

"We've been asking for this increase since 1999 – UNC, PNM, UNC, PNM – all ministers."

Rahaman reckoned successive health ministers have "had a problem" with him for speaking out about drug shortages.

"If a member of the public calls the press and says they don't have CDAP medication and they are not getting it from pharmacies, usually the average minister when they call him will say, 'I don't know what they're talking about. They have the drugs.'

"Then the press will call me and I will do a survey of my pharmacies and go and report to the minister that they don't have the drugs."

Rahaman said he also raised the ire of successive ministers by commenting on the government's payments due to pharmacies.

He said he had held office for the past 20 years, being elected and re-elected virtually every two years by the pharmacists, except for occasions disrupted by hooligans. He said he was elected in 2000, 2006, 2008, 2012, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020 and 2022.

"So I keep getting my mandate renewed. It's not that I'm president for life."


"Deyalsingh gives pharmacists green light to give drugs"

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