Pharmacist associations yesterday argued against a move by five pharmacists to have the Pharmacist’s Act (藥師法) declared unconstitutional.
The five pharmacists have asked the Council of Grand Justices for a constitutional interpretation on whether the law violates the Constitution by restricting pharmacists to one business location.
The grand justices heard an oral argument on Thursday last week on whether Article 11 of the act, stating that pharmacists registered and issued a practice license shall be restricted to one business location, violates the right to work, and the equality promised and protected by the Constitution.
The Taiwan Pharmacist Association, dozens of local pharmacist associations and supporters held a press conference in Taipei to voice their concerns about the consequences of relaxing the restrictions.
They urged the grand justices to take their concerns into consideration before delivering a decision.
The petitioners have asked that the location restriction be repealed and for pharmacists — who as physicians are also qualified primary healthcare providers — to be allowed to register parallel practices in multiple locations.
The associations warned that requests would not only result in pharmacists being overworked and exploited by hospital operators, but that it would put public safety at risk.
According to the associations, as of November last year there were 38,223 certified pharmacists nationwide, an average of 623 pharmacists join the workforce every year and more than 8,000 students are currently enrolled in pharmacy studies.
These numbers show there is no shortage of certified pharmacists, the groups said. Other types of healthcare providers who are legally allowed to work in multiple location practices have far fewer qualified professionals entering their fields, the associations said.
Using certified nurses as an example, the associations said there are 300,000 certified nurses nationwide, but only 130,000 are actually employed as nurses.
The willingness of healthcare practitioners to work in their fields depends on satisfactory working environments and fair treatment, and has nothing to do with whether multiple locations are sanctioned.
“What pharmacists provide is a kind of ‘irreversible service,’ meaning that once the prescribed drugs have been provided to patients, it’s hard to recall the medications. Having an overworked pharmacist at a pharmacy or a pharmacist not being present at the counter would be detrimental to safety and public health,” National Health Insurance Civic Surveillance Alliance convener Huang Sue-ying (黃淑英) said.
“The system of checks and balances between physicians and pharmacists, with the former prescribing and the latter checking for potential errors, would also be harmed by the lifting of the restriction,” said Eva Teng (滕西華), the alliance’s spokesperson.
Taiwan Pharmacist Association secretary-general Eric Tseng (曾中龍) said there can be more than 10,000 drug items in a community pharmacy.
“How could an overworked or dispatched pharmacist, unfamiliar with the surroundings, rapidly and accurately provide a good service?” he said.
The appeal to the grand justices is basically an attempt by hospitals and clinics to reduce their operating costs, Tseng said.