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‘Our united voice and effort could make the healthcare sector a better field for pharmacists in India’

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Abhay Kumar, National President, Indian Pharmacist Association, recently met the Union Health Minister JP Nadda, to discuss various issues faced the pharmacists in India. A memorandum was also presented to the health minister. Kumar in an interaction with Usha Sharma reveals more about the meeting

What were the highlights of the meeting?

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Abhay Kumar

I along with BP Ray, Member of Parliament, representing Andaman and Nicobar Islands, had an opportunity to meet the Union Health Minister, where we had a detailed discussion on the role of a pharmacist in healthcare sector. I presented him with a memorandum from IPA, the following points of which needed immediate intervention. The points are:

  • Entry level pay scale of Grade Pay of Pharmacist at Rs 5400 as recommended for staff nurse with same level of qualification
  • Formation of directorate/ cadre of pharmacists at the central and state government level
  • Formation of food and drug administration in every state of India
  • Pharmacist as prescriber in the absence of a doctor
  • Non-Practising Allowance (NPA) @ 25 per cent at par with Medical Officer under Government of India (GoI)
  • Additional increment/ up-gradation for the higher tech- qualified pharmacist at par with staff nurse/ medical officer under GoI
  • Creation of pharmacy cell/ section under Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, New Delhi
  • B.Pharm as the minimum qualification for the post of pharmacist
  • Inclusion of pharmacy subjects in civil services exam
  • Proper implementation of Pharmacy Act 1948 and Drugs & Cosmetic Act

What needs to be done to match the salary of pharmacists with other healthcare professionals?

One of the key points of discussion was on pay scale and promotional avenues for pharmacists. With no promotion and a grade pay (GP) of Rs 2,800, the entire cadre was demoralised by VI Central Pay Commission (CPC). They were expecting better placement in the VII CPC. However, the VII CPC did not recommend any change in the pay scale for pharmacists.

The Union Health Minister was informed that a pharmacy graduate is a well trained professional having sound knowledge of pharmacology and has an equivalent curriculum as that of an MBBS graduate, except surgery. Even pharmacists, who are working at primary healthcare centres (PHC)/ community healthcare centres (CHC), interact with various types of patients. They can be trained to practice medicine in the absence of qualified doctors especially in rural areas.

Besides this, what other demands were put forth to the minister?

Another major point of discussion was the existence of very meek enforcement agency i.e, Drugs Control Department at the Centre as well as in every state. The Drugs Control Department, needs to be strengthened with the recruitment of drug control officers. This will cater to the demands of unemployed graduates and post graduate pharma candidates.

What was the minister’s reaction?

The Union Minister gave a patient hearing to all the matters related to pharmacists. He assured me that everything will be looked into with a serious note. I expect a concrete outcome soon.

Why do you feel a proper and effective healthcare system can be in place if pharmacists supervise it?

Pharmacists play an important role in treating patients. Medicines are meant to be dispensed and handled by a registered pharmacist only as per various acts and rules under the Indian constitution. Basic information about any drug can be obtained from a pharmacist, let it be in a hospital or drug store/ chemists shop, making the profession of a pharmacist most reliable in the healthcare system.

What are the challenges that exist in the Indian pharmacist profession? Why do people hesitate to take this profession as a career option?

There is a dearth of job opportunities in government as well as the private sector for pharmacists. There are genuine vacancies in almost every states for the post of pharmacists, drug inspectors, and other technical posts in Drugs Control Department, which can be filled by recruiting pharmacists. Except a few, all states have no cadre of pharmacists, no designated promotional avenues and thus people are hesitant to choose pharmacy as a career option.

The government plans to impose guidelines for online pharmacies. Do you think it will reduce the prospects of pharmacists?

We, at IPA, have very strongly objected towards online pharmacies. Until and unless there is a strong enforcement agency to monitor and enforce Drugs and Cosmetic Act & Rules, online pharmacy must be totally stopped. In developed countries, where the enforcement agencies are in full strength, online pharmacies are unable to have any type of unethical practices. Many loopholes have evolved since the inception of Drugs and Cosmetic Act, which requires immediate revamp. Medicines should not be treated as any other household goods and thus must be dispensed under the supervision of a registered pharmacist only.

What will make the profession an attractive and lucrative career option? Do you plan to modify or revamp the pharmacy curriculum?

We have spoken to the Pharmacy Council of India to support us and guide GoI with various soon to be launched health programmes, where pharmacists can actively participate. If IPA’s demands are met by the government, it will have a positive impact on the healthcare system in India, which will eventually lead to a lot of scope in the pharmacy field. Creation of centralised and state level pharmacist register may rule out fake drug/ chemist shops. Even proper implementation of Pharmacy Act by PCI will weed out undesired players in pharma business. On different occasions, I wrote to the Prime Minister of India and also the health minister to delegate the prescription writing power to pharmacists. As of now, pharmacists do prescribe/ dispense medicines to patients in the absence of a doctor, but there is no such standing order to do so. Some of the basic medicines for common ailments may be declassified from the existing Schedule – H and pharmacists should be allowed to prescribe the declassified drugs. This will help to better service needy patients.

What is your message for Indian pharmacist community?

I would like to call upon the pharmacists across India to stand by IPA. Our united voice and effort could make the healthcare sector a better field for pharmacists in India. Together we can achieve what alone we could only dream.

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