Speak to your pharmacist

Community pharmacy

Your local community pharmacists can offer advice and over-the-counter medication to help with a range of common conditions, such as coughs, colds and the flu, as well as day to day issues, such as aches, pains and skin rashes.

You don’t need to make an appointment to see a community pharmacist and they will let you know if you need to see a doctor.

Health problems you don’t need to see your doctor about

Whilst the expertise of GPs is invaluable, there are plenty of minor ailments and services which you don’t need to see a doctor for. Your pharmacist may be a better option.

Many people look for a prescription to fix their illness, despite the same treatment often being available over the counter more cheaply. At WellBN we have employed a team of pharmacists and many of you will have received great advice from them at some point during your healthcare journey. Having them as part of the team frees up many hours of GP time a week, just by taking on prescribing work.

Pharmacists, practice nurses and other healthcare professionals at WellBN can provide the same care whilst reducing the workload for GPs and making it easier for you to get an appointment. So we need your help to achieve this. The right appointment for the right patient.

In addition to this, we all have access to the community pharmacy. The role of the community pharmacist in all of this is to undertake some clinical assessment of the patients attending the pharmacy and to make appropriate judgements about the correct course of action for each patient. Therefore, it should be reassuring to know that if you attend a pharmacy you will receive healthcare advice that is appropriate for you at that time. Pharmacists across England are performing this role thousands of times each day,

Four ways your community pharmacist can help you

1. Support with minor ailments

Pharmacists can offer advice and over-the-counter medication to help with a range of common conditions and minor injuries. You can see them for help with typical Winter ailments such as coughs, colds and the flu, as well as day to day issues, such as aches, pains, skin rashes and cystitis. Many pharmacists can also help with access to the morning after pill, pregnancy tests, and needle exchange services.

You don’t need to make an appointment to see a pharmacist and they will let you know if you need to see a doctor.

2. Help with your medication

If you have a question about medicine you’ve been prescribed or that you’ve bought over the counter, speak to your pharmacist. They are experts in how to use medicines safely.

People starting a new medicine to treat a long-term condition may be able to seek extra help from their local pharmacist through the New Medicine Service (NMS). This free scheme offers support over several weeks when you try a medicine for the first time. The NMS is only available for those taking certain medicines. Visit NHS Choices for more information.

If you’re taking lots of different medicines, you may be able to have a Medicines Use Review (MUR) with your pharmacist. This will help you work out when you should be taking your medication and discuss any questions or side effects. An MUR is a free service conducted in a private consultation room in the pharmacy and a written record will be given to you and your GP.

3. Repeat prescriptions

Save yourself a trip to your GP by asking your pharmacist to manage your repeat prescriptions for you. If you take medication on a regular basis and your condition is stable, your GP may be able to offer a long-term repeat prescription so that your pharmacist can supply your medicine at regular intervals. In the event that you experience problems with your medicine, tell your pharmacist and they can consult your GP.

Speak to your doctor to find out what is possible for your medication.

4. Help to live a healthy life

As well as helping you tackle ailments when they happen, pharmacists can also help you to have a healthy lifestyle. Rather than visiting your GP, go to your local pharmacy for advice on how to keep your family well. You can talk to them about how to eat healthily, lose weight, and the types of exercise you could be doing.

Pharmacists can also help you to stop smoking. They offer nicotine replacements, such as gum, patches or other medicines, as well as regular check-ins to help you stay motivated.

Just as good as prescriptions

Until a couple of decades ago, virtually every licensed medication needed a doctor’s prescription. Since then, hundreds of medicines have been reclassified as ‘P’ medicines – available without prescription, but only following a consultation with a community pharmacist. In addition, many medications which are still licensed as ‘POM’ (prescription only medicines) can now be provided by a community pharmacist with specialist training under a scheme called PGDs, or Patient Group Directions.

So community pharmacists are often providing exactly the same medicine you would get from your GP, but without the two week wait for a GP appointment. There are many complaints for which seeing a pharmacist first could benefit you. Some examples might be:

Aches and pains – e.g. back pain, headache and migraine, period pain, teething and toothache
Accidents – e.g. ankle sprain, minor cuts, grazes and burns
Allergies – e.g. insect bites and stings
Colds, flu and other infections – e.g. cough, congestion, sore throat, sinusitis, fevers and/or temperature, simple UTI
Ear care – e.g. earache, ear wax, ear infection
Eye care – e.g. bacterial conjunctivitis, styes
Hay fever – which is not controlled by standard over-the-counter treatments
Rashes – e.g. impetigo, shingles, skin reactions (e.g. to tablets)
Skin/mouth/head problems – e.g. athlete’s foot, chickenpox, cold sores, contact dermatitis, mild eczema or psoriasis, fungal infection (ringworm, actually a fungus not a worm), nappy rash, scabies, skin rash, vaginal thrush, head lice, warts and verrucae
Stomach aches – e.g. constipation, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, indigestion, reflux, threadworm, vomiting.

Your community pharmacist can also offer you advice on healthy living, like diet, exercise and quitting smoking, as well as providing services like emergency contraception, travel vaccinations and antimalarial tablets for travellers. If you want to delay your period because you’re going on holiday or have a big event coming up, they can sort that too.

How does this benefit you?

One of the benefits of using pharmacy services is that if everyone does it, more people will be able to get GP appointments when they need one.

“These benefits become more obvious at times of peak demand – for example, during winter when GP appointments are harder to come by. These system problems are alleviated if more people decide to manage their care by visiting a pharmacy instead of taking a GP appointment. If we can encourage more patients to do this when it’s appropriate then this will help the whole system and mean that those who need care the most can get it in a timely manner,” says Yeung.

For some conditions, you could actually get a better service by choosing a pharmacy over a doctor’s surgery, highlights Macnair. “If you see your GP for minor problems you are likely to be sent to the pharmacy anyway, so it saves time to go directly. Pharmacists may give you more time too and answer any questions you might have about how to use the treatment and what side effects or complications to look out for.”

Additionally, the more flexible hours and accessible locations of pharmacies mean that getting to a pharmacist when you have a health problem will likely be easier and quicker than waiting for a GP appointment.

“As a patient you get direct access – with no need to book an appointment – to someone with a huge knowledge of treatments that you can buy directly over the counter in the pharmacy. They are a great resource,” explains Macnair.

What role does pharmacy play in the NHS?

The NHS ‘Long-term Plan’, announced in January 2019, sets out a ten-year vision for the NHS as a way to improve access to and efficiency of services. The integration of pharmacy services with GP practices is designed to encourage patients to see their pharmacist rather than their GP for certain treatments and advice on minor ailments, as well as general health and well-being.

This is a step in the right direction, according to Yeung. “The NHS has not made the most of the clinical resource that exists across the community pharmacy network in England. This has been due to number of well-recognised challenges in the way that out-of-hospital care systems operate. However, with the advent of services like the digital minor illness service and the NHS urgent medicines supply advanced service it seems that the NHS is finally overcoming these barriers, which must be applauded.

“It is now time for community pharmacy as a sector to rise to the challenge and continue to deliver really exceptional results for the benefit of patients.”

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