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British Columbia B.C. regulatory crackdown prompts 11 pharmacies to drop out of PharmaCare

A new regulation, enacted last December allows the ministry of health to turn down pharmacies’ applications to enrol in PharmaCare, B.C.’s provincial drug plan

DEBORAH BAIC/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Nearly a dozen Lower Mainland pharmacies have withdrawn from PharmaCare in the midst of a regulatory crackdown by the provincial Ministry of Health.

The 11 pharmacies – which are expected to be among the first to close as a result of enforcement action the ministry publicly disclosed last month – include sites in Vancouver, New Westminster, Surrey, Burnaby and Richmond, and at least one outlet that has been previously cited in disciplinary action by the B.C. College of Pharmacists.

Some of the outlets withdrew voluntarily during the cancellation process while others were denied enrolment, a ministry spokeswoman said Tuesday. The ministry provided an updated list in response to a request by The Globe and Mail. The ministry did not disclose its reasons for targeting the 11 operations.

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But in May it said it intended to deny enrolment to about 46 pharmacies for reasons including billing problems, improperly filed drug information and the submission of apparently false information on enrolment applications.

There are about 1,280 pharmacies in the province. The ministry is pursuing the crackdown through a new regulation, enacted last December, that allows the ministry to turn down pharmacies' applications to enrol in PharmaCare, B.C.'s provincial drug plan. Without being enrolled in the $1.1-billion plan, pharmacies can no longer charge it for drugs and are essentially forced out of business. The deadline for re-enrolment was June 1. For pharmacies warned that their applications will not be approved, the province recently extended that deadline until June 19.

According to the list provided by the ministry, three pharmacies – Abbott Renuka in Vancouver's Downtown Eastside, Whalley Pharmacy in Surrey and Capital Care Pharmacy, also in Surrey – terminated their enrolment last December, when the new regulation took effect.

At least one of those locations is currently operating under new management. Sami Sheikh, the manager of 108 Stop Pharmacy, said Tuesday he took over the former Capital Care location about a month ago. "We have tried to comply with all the rules and regulations," Mr. Sheikh said, adding that he moved to the Surrey site from a smaller location in Burnaby.

Several others stores on the list had telephone numbers that appeared to be out of service, while one, Raven Pharmacy in Vancouver, had a voicemail greeting saying it would be closed June 1 until further notice.

The Abbott Renuka pharmacy featured in a long-running disciplinary case between former pharmacist Manijeh Farbeh and the College of Pharmacists of B.C., which regulates pharmacists in the province.

That case dates back to 2009, when the college suspended Ms. Farbeh's registration pending a disciplinary hearing. In 2010, a college disciplinary panel found Ms. Farbeh guilty of incompetence and professional misconduct in relation to her management of two pharmacies in the Downtown Eastside, including the Abbott Renuka, and cancelled her registration.

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Ms. Farbeh appealed the panel decision to the Supreme Court of B.C., setting off a round of court and panel hearings in which her counsel argued that the fact that Ms. Farbeh worked at a pharmacy in the Downtown Eastside was a "mitigating circumstance" that deserved less severe sanction from the college.

The college disciplinary panel disagreed, saying people in that neighbourhood were entitled to the same standards of practice as everybody else. In April, a B.C. Supreme Court judge turned down Ms. Farbeh's bid for reinstatement.

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