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The Mind website has information about what physical activity is, how it can support mental health and ideas on what activities people can try  

What is physical activity?

Being physically active means sitting down less and moving our bodies more. Many people find that physical activity helps them maintain positive mental health, either on its own, or in combination with other treatments.

This doesn’t have to mean running marathons or training every day at the gym. There are lots of different things you can do to be a bit more active. For ideas, see Mind’s information on choosing an activity (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/choosing-an-activity/). Mind also has some tips to help you get started (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/getting-started/), and information about how much activity is healthy (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/how-much-to-do/).

However, it can be difficult to be physically active, especially if you are feeling unwell (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/about-physical-activity/#WhatIfImFeelingUnwell). Mind has information which you may find helpful if:

✚ you have particular physical or mental health considerations that you need to think about before you start getting active (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/before-you-start/)

✚ you feel like, right now, physical activity isn’t working for you (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/if-it-doesnt-work/).

How can physical activity help my mental health?

There are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health. For example, it can help with:

✚ better sleep – by making you feel more tired at the end of the day

✚ happier moods – physical activity releases feel-good hormones that make you feel better in yourself and give you more energy

✚ managing stress, anxiety or intrusive and racing thoughts – doing something physical releases cortisol which helps us manage stress. Being physically active also gives your brain something to focus on and can be a positive coping strategy for difficult times
✚ better self-esteem – being more active can make you feel better about yourself as you improve and meet your goals

✚ reducing the risk of depression – studies have shown that doing regular physical activity can reduce the likelihood of experiencing a period of depression

✚ connecting with people – doing group or team activities can help you meet new and like-minded people, and make new friends.

But physical activity isn’t always helpful for everyone’s mental health. You may find that it is helpful at some times and not others, or just that it doesn’t work for you (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/if-it-doesnt-work/). Beware that overtraining can have a negative impact on both physical and mental wellbeing (https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/how-much-to-do/#overtraining).

What if I’m feeling unwell?

When you’re feeling unwell, it can be really hard to get started and it can be frustrating when people tell you about the benefits of being more active.

If you’re in a really bad place, don’t be too hard on yourself if you can’t exercise. It can be easy to start feeling guilty or beat yourself up about not exercising, and this can start to contribute to feeling unwell.

You may need to focus on other things for a while, and build some physical activity into your routine once you’re feeling a bit better. It’s important to find a balance, and figure out what works best for you.

What type of activity might work for me?

Being physically active tends to be easier if you choose an activity that you enjoy, and that fits into your daily life. If you force yourself to do something you don’t enjoy, you’re much less likely to keep it going and experience benefits to your mental health.

There are lots of different things you can try – not everybody will enjoy or feel comfortable doing all of these activities, so you may need to try a few before you find something you like. You may also find that different things work for you at different times, depending on how you’re feeling.

If you think you might find it hard to get going with any of these things, Mind has information which may help you get started at mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/getting-started/

Activities at home

✚ Try to sit less – if you spend lots of time sitting down, try to get up and move around a bit every hour. If you’re worried you might forget, you could set an alarm to remind yourself.

✚ Chair-based exercises – if you have mobility problems, a physical condition, or find it difficult spending time out of a chair, the NHS website has activity routines you can try while sitting down.

✚ Play an active computer game – there are a few different gaming consoles you could try which involve actively moving your body while playing computer games.

✚ Do exercises or stretches at home – the NHS website has lots of different routines, or you could try an exercise CD or DVD.

✚ Do an online activity programme – there are lots of free, online exercise regimes designed for you to try at home, including everything from chair-based exercises to yoga and cardio workouts.

✚ Do active household chores, like hoovering, tidying or DIY.

✚ Include more activity in your day-to-day routine – run up the stairs instead of walking, carry your bags of shopping in one at a time or do some gentle stretching while you’re watching TV.

✚ Dance – put on some music while you’re cooking and dance around your kitchen, or have a mini dance party with your friends or family.

Activities out and about

✚ Walk a bit more – to work, to the shops, or to the end of the road and back.

✚ Play a game in the park – for example, frisbee, tag or a game of catch.

✚ Try a new sport, or join a team, group or exercise class – the Be Inspired website has lots of information about what different sports and activities are like, and how to get involved.

✚ Volunteer outdoors – The Conservation Volunteers and The Wildlife Trusts run outdoor volunteering projects around the UK.

✚ Find your local leisure centre – leisure centres have a range of sports facilities, such as badminton and squash courts, and run exercise classes and groups, such as Zumba and aerobics. They often feel more inclusive than private gyms, and many have discount schemes and childcare facilities. Check your local council website to find your nearest centre.

✚ Try a dance class – from Zumba to swing, ballroom or dancercise, the NHS website has a directory of classes in your local area.

✚ Walking or running groups – Walking for Health, Let’s Walk Cymru, Ramblers and Run Together all organise free, inclusive local groups with trained volunteers.

✚ Outdoors gyms – some local parks have free outdoors gym equipment you can use. You can try your local council website to find the location of any outdoor gyms near you.

✚ Cycling – whether riding to the shops or to work, or going on long bike rides at the weekend, the Sustrans website has lots of ideas for routes and information about safe cycling to get you started.

✚ Adventure gaming apps – some gaming apps are a great opportunity to explore outside.

✚ A mindful sport, such as yoga, pilates, tai chi or Nordic walking – the NHS website has information about what these involve and how to find classes.

✚ Gardening or seated gardening – the Carry on Gardening website has information about gardening for emotional wellbeing and with particular disabilities. If you don’t have a garden at home, the Social Farms & Gardens website has details of community garden and farms around the UK.

✚ Be active in nature – Mind’s information on nature and mental health has lots of ideas for getting active outdoors.

✚ Swimming – swimming.org has a search tool to find your local pool, information about adult swim classes and water-based sports such as aqua aerobics, aqua Zumba, water polo and synchronised swimming, as well as pool exercises you can do on your own.

Disability, mental health and inclusive activities

✚ Disability sports – the NHS and Disability Sports Wales websites list local organisations that offer disability sports in your area, whatever your disability or level of fitness.

✚ Walking sports – many sports are available in a walking version, such as walking football, walking hockey or walking basketball.

✚ Inclusive gyms – the Activity Alliance has information about inclusive gyms and leisure centres, which offer welcoming and accessible environments for people with disabilities. This includes a search tool to help you find an accredited inclusive gym in your area.

✚ Try an NHS routine – the NHS website has tips and routines for people with disabilities who want to get more active, as well as fitness guides for wheelchair users.

✚ Specific activities for people with a mental health problem – some local Minds offer physical activity sessions through Mind’s Get Set to Go programme. The We Are Undefeatable campaign also has ideas for getting active if you have a long-term health condition, including mental health problems.

✚ Ask for a referral to a physical activity scheme – if you have a mental health problem, your GP may be able to refer you to a physical activity programme.

Information courtesy of the Mind website’s physical activity webpages: mind.org.uk/information-support/tips-for-everyday-living/physical-activity-and-your-mental-health/about-physical-activity/

Don’t forget about your local pharmacy when stocking up on essentials, from medicines and make-up to perfume and personal hygiene, as Claire Muffett-Reece explains  

Your local pharmacy has a multitude of over-the-counter medicines available to buy to treat all manner of aches, pains and discomforts. But what do you do if your favourite brands are not in stock? Did you know there are often unbranded alternatives? It is easy to overlook these items, but you can always turn to the pharmicist for advice and they will point you in the direction of a suitable replacement.

With this in mind, shop wisely when visiting your community pharmacy, asking for help whenever needed. You’ll be able to pick up a host of medicines by browsing the aisles, from pain relief and allergy alleviators, to stomach complaints including indigestion, heartburn, constipation and diarrhoea. There are also products to help with blocked ears, eye infections, anti-fungal treatments for athlete’s foot – and everything you can practically think of when it comes to first aid. From plasters and antiseptic lotions, to thermometers and alcohol-free cleansing wipes, your pharmacy team are on hand to help with any advice.

Health hub

Your local pharmacy should also be seen as a health and wellbeing hub in the heart of your community, so make sure you turn to the team if you have any health or fitness concern you’d like to address. For a start, they stock plenty of vitamins and minerals to help your body work properly and stay the healthiest it can be. They’ll sometimes offer healthy snacks and low-sugar food options to keep you on a fit and healthy path, not to mention advice and products for helping you lose weight if you’re struggling to maintain a good BMI. Found in the form of weight loss supplements, slimming aids and meal replacement alternatives, you must speak to a member of staff about these to ensure it’s the right course of action for you as an individual.

Personal hygiene and beauty

Make sure you check out all the cleansing products available on the shelves. Hand and body soaps, shower gels and bathing products are all easily accessible – not to mention affordable – and while you’re there pick up any supplies of anti-perspirant, body moisturiser, and emollients to soothe sore, itchy skin.

Speaking of skin – did you realise you can also buy many of your favourite face creams and beauty essentials from your high street pharmacy? Cleansers, toners and moisturisers, as well as night creams, face masks and anti-wrinkle treatments, are all at your fingertips once you walk through the door.

Intimate hygiene is also an area your pharmacy can offer products and advice, from menstruation essentials to bladder disfunction and thrush or cystitis relief. And don’t forget about protecting your skin with sun cream over the summer months (the sun’s rays in the UK can be just as dangerous as they are abroad).

Infants and children

Looking after little ones, from babies to adolescents, is a lot of work – so visit your pharmacy for convenience as well as expert advice! For tots, nappies, baby wipes, nappy sacks and formula are all available, not to mention any treatments you might need for ailments including colic, cradle cap, fever and teething. You can also pick up baby bottles, sterilising solution and equipment, and even baby bathing products to cover all your infant needs.

Then there’s the other complaints your children might suffer from as they grow. Your pharmacy team are experts at identifying and offering treatment advice on chicken pox, head lice, verruca worries and fever concerns, all the way up to acne issues as they hit their teens.

Sexual health

Many still feel mortified at the thought of discussing any problems with a stranger – regardless of their expertise. Please don’t – your local pharmacy is on hand to help with any manner of sexual health and advice. Condoms, ovulation kits, lubricants and pregnancy tests are all accessible at your local store, not to mention erectile dysfunction medications such as Viagra. Your pharmacy may be required to ask a few questions before selling certain products – just remember, it’s in your best interest and answer honestly and openly.

Get grooming!

It’s time to head over to your community pharmacy so you can look good from top-to-toe. From necessities such as tooth hygiene and haircare, to make-up, nail varnish and perfumes, you’ll find a wide range to choose from to get you back to your pre-lockdown best. Men also have a host of grooming products on offer. Hair loss advice is available with supplements to help, not to mention razors, skincare, men’s hair dye and aftershave.

Mobility aids

Whether you’re recuperating from an operation or are simply finding mobility more challenging as you age, your local pharmacy has products to help. Struggling to get from room to room? Walking aids such as frames can be bought from some pharmacies. Worried about getting to the toilet in the middle of the night? Bathroom aids and commodes can all be found – or ordered – from some pharmacies. You can even pick up items including pill boxes, incontinence pads, lap tables and eye glasses – even tools to help to open tightly-screwed bottles and cans.

Which medicines can cause drowsiness?

Some over-the-counter (OTC) medicines have the potential to make people feel sleepy. These include medicines that might be taken for allergy relief e.g. hayfever; cough; to prevent nausea e.g. travel sickness; and sleep remedies. It is important to always read the label as this will help you identify medicines liable to cause drowsiness.

Antihistamines are the most common cause of drowsiness. There are two main types:
✚ first generation (sedating) – can only be bought under the supervision of a pharmacist and are kept behind the counter.

✚ second generation (non-sedating) – have less potential to cause drowsiness.

Although this drowsiness can have a beneficial effect, such as helping someone sleep if they are suffering from a cough, it can also present a risk, particularly for people’s ability to drive safely.

Is everyone affected in the same way?

No. Some people are more sensitive than others to the particular ingredients known to cause drowsiness. There is increasing understanding that there is a genetic link and that some people metabolise the ingredients differently. However, it isn’t possible to predict how an individual will be affected at the point of taking the medicine: external factors such as taking more than one OTC medicine at the same time and drinking alcohol can also increase the risk of drowsiness. It is also important to note that illness itself can be a distraction for drivers if symptoms are not treated. People should ask their pharmacist for advice on choosing a suitable product.

Labelling and regulation

Medicines labelling is regulated and approved by the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA). Products that have the potential to cause drowsiness have to display a warning statement on the back of the pack. This reads: “This medicine can make you feel sleepy. Do not drive while taking this medicine until you know how it makes you feel. See the leaflet inside for more information.”

Source: The Proprietary Association of Great Britain

Claire Muffett-Reece highlights what to stock up on from your local pharmacy to ensure you’re ready for whatever we’re allowed to do this summer  

Want to get away this summer? Us too. While we wish we had a crystal ball to reveal exactly where we’ll be in terms of COVID-19 as summer hits, the truth is you’ve just got to prepare as best as you can. That means getting organised in terms of a vacation, getting organised in terms of a staycation, and getting organised in terms of a lockation (that’s a lockdown vacation to you and me).

Luckily for you, your local pharmacy has everything you need when it comes to looking after your summer health. From travel vaccinations for paradise island hopping (we can but dream), to must-have essentials to keep you fit and well if you’ve got to stay at home, here’s our guide to what you need to invest in and why.

THE HEAT IS ON

Looking forward to hotter days and nights, with dreams of socially- distanced BBQs while catching up with friends and family? Us too. However you choose to spend your summer, make sure you visit your local pharmacy for must-have products and are sensible with the rising temperatures.

SPF (sun protection factor) is the first port of call for all members of your family, as no one wants to burn in the sun, so have a chat with a member of the pharmacy team to see which sun lotion is the right one for you. You should also remember that the sun can cause you to overheat, so it might be worth investing in products to keep you and your family cooler when the temperature gets a bit too much. Depending on the size of your pharmacy you may find they stock electric fans, gel pillows, mattress cooling pads and more, so ring up and see if you can speak to someone for advice on the best ways to stay cool if a heatwave hits in the UK.

Dehydration is another cause for concern during the summer months, with the young, elderly and those with underlying health conditions usually at more of a risk. Drinking plenty of water is of course key, but you should again ask your pharmacist for advice on other ways to stay hydrated. From guiding you to a healthy diet, to the right clothing and staying shaded during the hottest part of the day, they have a wealth of knowledge to keep you and your family safe.

ESCAPE TO THE SUN?

We don’t know what the situation will be with regards to us having a holiday abroad this summer, so the best advice is to be prepared should you be given the green light. First, look at the location you’re hoping to visit, compiling a checklist of all the products you’ll need to stay fit and healthy while on your travels. A basic first aid kit is a given, stocking up on plasters, antiseptic cream, bite and sting relief and remedies for upset stomachs, headaches, heartburn and whatever else you tend to suffer from when venturing overseas. Will you need tablets for even getting to your chosen location in the first place? Your local pharmacy can help with travel sickness tablets for the entire family.

Speaking of pharmacy advice, they’re the first port of call for help when it comes to any vaccinations you may well need if you’re allowed to visit a more tropical location. During such unprecedented times it’s best to go ahead with any jabs if your holiday still appears to be going ahead – so don’t cancel any if you’re not one hundred per cent certain that you’re no longer going to be travelling.

It’s also essential to make sure you’re adequately protected in terms of medication and travel insurance if you’re hoping to escape this summer. Take the correct amount of your prescribed medication so you’re covered while you’re away, calling your travel insurance provider for help should you find yourself unable to return home due to a country’s lockdown and you don’t have enough prescription to cover your unwanted extended stay. 

ALLERGY ADVICE

Summer may bring with it a dose of much-needed sunshine, but it also signals a return of hay fever, not to mention triggers in other more common allergies. Itchy eyes and a constantly streaming and sneezing nose are far from fun, so visit your local pharmacy as soon as possible to try and limit the effects of this allergic reaction. Antihistamines in the form of tablets and eye drops provide some relief, while stocking up on saline nasal sprays and tissues is also advised.

Asthma and eczema sufferers also find their conditions may tend to worsen over the summer months, so it’s advisable to speak to your pharmacy sooner rather than later for an action plan to get you through the hottest months. Make sure your inhalers are full and plentiful and that with eczema you are stocked up on all your prescribed medication and over-the-counter help, such as bathing emollients and topical ointments and creams.

ACHES & PAINS

You can still become under the weather, whatever the time of year, so make sure you’re stocked up and prepared for any illness the hotter months may decide to throw at you. Catching a cold; suffering from a migraine; experiencing an upset stomach – all of these are unpleasant but can be safely managed at home with products and advice from your local community pharmacy. Your kids will no doubt pick up a bug or two along the way now they’re back mixing together at school, so invest in a new thermometer and have plenty of Calpol to hand should you find their temperature starts to rise.

Summer is also bound to bring with it a few seasonal-related mishaps, from tumbles in nettles to insect bites and stings – again, it’s your pharmacy you need to turn to and not your GP. Too much wine one night after a long overdue catch up with friends? Your pharmacy has all the hangover- related pain relief you’ll need!

COVID 19

Just because the jabs are being rolled out across the country doesn’t mean you should be any less vigilant when it comes to protecting you and your family from COVID-19. If you are attending outdoor, sporting or music events, you will still need to bear in mind social distancing and to take precautions. If you think you have any symptoms over the summer it’s imperative you don’t visit your pharmacy for help or advice – call by phone instead and get a friend or relative to collect any medicines or supplies you may need.

Mental health and pharmacy 

A look at mental health and pharmacy plus highlighting the work of three mental health charities across the UK  

It is vital that people with mental health problems receive the care and treatment they are entitled to and pharmacies are in a great position to provide support. The relative informality of pharmacies means it can be a good place to open up a conversation about mental health. There are also consultation rooms where you can discuss matters without being overheard.

For some isolated people, a pharmacist might be the only person they talk to all week.

By meeting the same people regularly in the pharmacy, pharmacy teams often spot the early signs of mental illness and signpost people to other forms of support in the area.

As experts in medicines and how they are used, pharmacists can help people get the best outcomes from their drugs, reduce adverse reactions and minimise unplanned admissions to hospital. They can be a vital source of advice for people taking medication for mental illness for the first time, and when people come off medication.

Pharmacies can also help maintain mental health in terms of looking after patients’ general health and wellbeing, for example by providing support to stop smoking.

Mind

Mind is a mental health charity in England and Wales. Founded in 1946 as the National Association for Mental Health, it raises public awareness and understanding of mental health issues and offers information and advice to anyone with a mental health problem as well as lobbying government, nationally and locally, to improve services, raise awareness and promote understanding.

The charity campaigns on a range of issues that could affect anybody with a mental health problem such as health services, legislation, protection of legal rights and employment.

There is an Infoline, on 0300 123 3393, which offers help for the price of a local call. The Legal Line, on 0300 466 6463, has information on mental health-related law for the public, service users, family members/carers, mental health professionals and mental health advocates. Both lines are confidential services.

Inspire Wellbeing Northern Ireland

Inspire is an all-island charity and social enterprise working together with people living with mental ill health, intellectual disability, autism and addictions across Ireland, to ensure they live with dignity and realise their full potential.

Their person-centred, whole-society approach means they believe in a culture of compassion, creating a society free from stigma that focuses on people and their abilities.

Inspire delivers a full range of support and therapeutic services. Through supported housing, community wellbeing support and addiction services, Inspire have supported more than 5,200 people in communities across Ireland.

The professional services team provides all-island employee and student support to more than 350 organisations, resulting in 49,000-plus counselling sessions delivered. Contact Inspire on 028 9032 8474, Monday to Friday, 9am-5pm. This is not a helpline number but staff can signpost callers to services.

Scottish Association for Mental Health

SAMH currently operates more than 60 services in communities across Scotland providing mental health social care support, addictions and employment services, among others.

These services together with national programme work in See Me, Respect Me, suicide prevention, physical activity and sport; and inform SAMH’s policy and campaign work to influence positive social change.

The SAMH Information Service team can connect callers with local mental health support and information. It operates from 9am-6pm Monday to Friday (except bank holidays). Email info@samh.org.uk or call 0344 800 0550.

How to boost your immune system with help from your pharmacy

In the age of Covid-19, it’s more important than ever to strengthen your body’s immune function, as Michelle Higgs explains  

The immune system is one of the great wonders of the human body. It works tirelessly 24 hours a day to keep you safe from infections caused by viruses, parasites and bacteria. If you regularly catch colds and often feel ‘run down’, you could be at greater risk of developing more serious infections. Also, bear in mind that as we get older, our immune systems naturally weaken.

But there are lots of things you can do to support your immune system and make sure it’s working efficiently to provide as much protection as possible. And your local pharmacy can also give you a helping hand!

EAT A HEALTHY DIET

A healthy diet is the foundation for overall good health and it can certainly help to support your immune function. But it’s important to note that no one food will boost immunity better than any other. Rather, you should be eating meals made up of foods from the main food groups.

These include five portions of a variety of fruits and vegetables; starchy carbohydrates such as wholegrain cereals, bread, rice and pasta, plus potatoes; dairy products such as lower fat yoghurt, cheese and other alternatives; small amounts of unsaturated oils; two portions of fish (one of which is oily), meat, eggs, beans, pulses and other proteins. Try to limit foods that are processed or contain lots of salt, sugar or fat. The NHS Eatwell Guide illustrates how
you can create a balanced diet (https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/eat- well/the-eatwell-guide/)

How your pharmacy can help:

Eating a balanced diet should mean you’ll get all the necessary vitamins naturally from your food. But you may need to take supplements if, for example, you’re vegetarian or vegan, or you have an autoimmune disorder that’s treated with immunosuppressant drugs. Talk to your pharmacy team to check you’re getting all the vitamins and minerals you need. Some can be provided via prescription while others can be sold over the counter.

GET PLENTY OF EXERCISE

Keeping active isn’t just good for helping to lose weight, strengthening your muscles and increasing your fitness levels. It’s the key to improving your general circulation, which, in turn, allows your infection-fighting white blood cells to move freely around your body.

Research shows that just half an hour of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise per day has a positive effect on your immune function, stimulating it to work harder. So being active every day helps us to feel fitter and healthier, and at the same time we’re boosting our immune systems – that’s definitely a win-win situation!

The NHS advises that adults should be aiming to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week. On at least two days a week, you should be focusing on strengthening exercises.

How your pharmacy can help:

If you haven’t exercised for a long time, it would be worth asking for a health check at your local pharmacy, especially if you’re over the age of 40. You can also request that your BMI (Body Mass Index) be calculated, which will give you a starting point and a goal. The pharmacy team can also point you in the right direction if you’re not sure how to start exercising, and if you’re tech-savvy, there are lots of apps that can help, some of which are provided by the NHS.

KEEP HYDRATED

We all know that drinking sufficient water during the day is beneficial to our overall health. But did you know that staying hydrated is vital for your immune system to work properly? Water is a vital component of the plasma in your blood, which carries red and white blood cells, as well as platelets. It’s the white blood cells that help to keep your immune system in good working order.

Adults should drink between eight and 10 cups or glasses of fluid a day. But if you rely solely on caffeinated tea or coffee to keep yourself hydrated, this will not help since caffeine has a diuretic effect, meaning the body produces more urine more quickly. Try to limit your intake of caffeinated drinks by switching it up with decaffeinated tea, coffee or herbal teas.

Alcohol has the same diuretic effect as caffeine, so you should try to reduce the number of units you have each week. You can slightly mitigate the negative impact of alcohol on your body by drinking water in between each alcoholic drink.

How your pharmacy can help:

If you find yourself relying more and more on alcohol to get through the day and you feel it’s become a problem, visit your pharmacy for a confidential discussion with the pharmacist. Many community pharmacies offer an alcohol screening service providing lots of support and advice, and ensuring you get the help you need.

GET A GOOD NIGHT’S SLEEP

While we sleep, our bodies are busy repairing cells, releasing hormones and proteins, restoring energy and creating new white blood cells to fight off infections. Without quality sleep, our immune systems suffer because the biological process of generating new cells is interrupted.

As adults, we need about eight hours’ sleep every night, but very few of us actually get that. Instead, it’s believed that most of us have seven hours or less of quality sleep. Quality sleep means uninterrupted sleep. If you’re woken by your baby or the neighbour’s barking dog; if you’re trying to cope with sleeping during the day while working night shifts; or if you’re going through a period of bereavement or the break-up of a relationship: all these things will have a negative impact on your immune function.

How your pharmacy can help:

If you’re having problems sleeping, talk to your pharmacy team about remedies that can help. You’ll be asked questions about your routine before bedtime and details about your sleeping patterns. If the issue is caused by something more serious such as sleep apnoea, the pharmacist will be able to suggest some methods of self-care to reduce your symptoms.

Reduce your stress levels

In the middle of a global pandemic, it’s no surprise that most of us are experiencing more stress than we normally do. Usually, our bodies can deal effectively with a small amount of stress by producing the cortisol and adrenaline hormones.

But if you’ve been suffering with stress for a long period of time, you have what’s known as chronic stress. This is more serious because your body will produce increasing amounts of cortisol, which will eventually suppress your immune system and reduce the number of white blood cells being produced.

How your pharmacy can help:

Speak to your local pharmacist if stress is adversely affecting your life. He/she can identify ways to treat some of your symptoms, suggest stress-relieving exercises and therapies, and refer you to your GP if necessary.

First port of call for minor ailments 

Here we discuss some of the pharmacy-based services for treating minor ailments 

Your local pharmacy is the best first port of call for the vast majority of health concerns, and most certainly for common illnesses such as eye infections and tummy aches.

Read on to find out about some of the pharmacy-based services for treating minor ailments.

NHS Pharmacy First Scotland

You do not need an appointment to access the NHS Pharmacy First Scotland scheme and you can go to any pharmacy. Your pharmacist will give you advice on your minor illness and supply a medicine if they think you need it (for a range of clinical conditions, from acne to verrucas). They can also refer you to another health care professional (for example your GP) if they think this is necessary.

Pharmacists, like GPs, can only provide certain medicines and products on the NHS. All of these are proven to be effective for treating your condition. If you want a specific medicine or product, you may need to buy it. The pharmacist will give you advice on this.

Common Ailments Scheme (Wales)

The Common Ailments Service is a free NHS service in Wales that you can access for advice and treatment of a variety of medical conditions.

The service involves patient registration with the pharmacy, one-to- one consultation with the pharmacist, advice on treatment where needed or referral (for example to a GP) if necessary.

Pharmacists can offer advice and treatment for the following conditions: Acne, athletes’ foot, backache (acute), chickenpox, cold sores, colic, conjunctivitis (bacterial), constipation, dermatitis (acute), diarrhoea, dry eye, haemorrhoids, hayfever, head lice, indigestion/reflux, ingrowing toenail, intertrigo/ringworm, mouth ulcers, nappy rash, oral thrush, scabies, sore throat/tonsillitis, teething, threadworm, vaginal thrush, verruca.

Minor Ailments Scheme (Northern Ireland)

Using this service, pharmacists can give advice or medicines for treatment of certain ailments to suitable patients. Referral into the service is from GP practices, the community pharmacist or self-referral by the patient. Minor ailments covered are acne vulgaris, athlete’s foot, diarrhoea, haemorrhoids, headlice, groin area infection, threadworms, vaginal thrush, ear wax, mouth ulcers, oral thrush, scabies, verrucae.

Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (England)

The NHS Community Pharmacist Consultation Service (CPCS) launched in October 2019. CPCS links patients who might otherwise have gone to see a GP with a minor illness, or patients who need an urgent supply of a medicine with a community pharmacy. NHS111 or your local GP surgery will make a digital referral to a convenient pharmacy, where  the patient will receive pharmacist advice and, if appropriate, treatment.

You get the option of having a face-to-face or remote consultation with the pharmacist.

How pharmacists can help you with medical advice and medicines 

Your local pharmacy is a hub in the community providing instant health advice and treatment for minor illnesses. Michelle Higgs highlights the range of services available at community pharmacies

Everyone knows that the NHS is under increasing pressure, and your local GP practice is having to care for greater numbers of patients with limited resources. Under these circumstances, it has become extremely difficult to get an appointment to see your GP when you need one, at a time that suits you. Sometimes, it can be difficult to know if you need to seek advice but the worst thing you can do is let an illness develop before seeing a medical professional.

Your local healthcare provider

You might think that the pharmacy is just somewhere you go to get a prescription after you’ve seen a doctor. But it’s so much more than that. Pharmacists are highly skilled healthcare professionals who undergo five years of specialist training in the use of medicines before becoming qualified. But that’s not all. They are also trained in managing minor illnesses such as sore throats, coughs and colds; tummy issues; mouth ulcers; athlete’s foot; sleeping problems; and general aches and pains.

Pharmacists can offer the right treatment to deal with them, there and then; this could include over-the-counter medicines, advice to rest for a few days, or the simple reassurance that you don’t need to worry. They will also be able to spot if you have more serious symptoms and will tell you if you need to see a GP or go to a hospital.

Best of all, you can usually see the pharmacist without an appointment. Many pharmacies are open until late in the evening, at weekends and on bank holidays, and most provide a separate consultation room so that you can discuss your health issues in private.

Dispensing medication

Every pharmacy can dispense medicine or drugs prescribed by a doctor, on receipt of an NHS prescription. Appliances such as stomas and incontinence products may also be offered, but you should check with your local pharmacy first.

Pharmacies also sell non-prescription medication such as paracetamol and cough medicine. In addition, if you have out-of-date or unwanted medicines, you can take them to your local pharmacy to be disposed of safely.

When you are prescribed new medication, it’s vital that you understand how to take it safely, what the dose is for you and how often you should take it. If you’ve had treatment in hospital and are discharged with different or new medication, you may be referred to your local pharmacy for precisely this reason. The pharmacy team is on hand to guide you and clarify any issues you may have with your new medicines.

CORE SERVICES PROVIDED BY PHARMACIES

You’ve come to the right place for:

✚  Advice about treating minor illnesses such as eye infections and tummy aches
✚  Support for healthy living
✚  Advice on staying well and preventing disease
✚ Help to quit smoking
✚ Personalised support to get the most from your medicines

Health and wellbeing

Your local pharmacy is, in effect, a health and wellbeing hub for the community on your high street. The help and advice they offer in improving patients’ health is invaluable for society as a whole.

Pharmacy teams offer a range of services to help you to live more healthily, but they differ from place to place. It’s well worth dropping in to find out what’s available at your local independent pharmacy. Some services are offered on the NHS while a charge is made for others. Some pharmacies will test for blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar.

Some pharmacies offer flu vaccinations on the NHS to people in at-risk groups, including older people, pregnant women and patients with certain long-term medical conditions. If you fall into one of these categories, you will usually be invited for a vaccination automatically. If you don’t qualify for a free vaccination, you can still pay to have one.

To improve your wellbeing, pharmacy teams can help you to stop smoking through nicotine replacement therapy (NRT) and can advise what’s best for you, depending on your overall health.

Help and resources are available in many pharmacies if you want to lose weight; the pharmacy team can measure your BMI, blood pressure and other risk factors, and can sometimes refer you to a weight management programme.

Other services that may be available in pharmacies include advice about using asthma inhalers, emergency contraception, screening and treatment for chlamydia, and a needle and syringe exchange for substance users.

Young Pharmacists

We talked to some young people starting out on their career in community pharmacy and ask why they think it is a good choice 

Siraaj Bukera, 24, Yorkshire

“I have been a manager at our pharmacy for over a year. It is quite unusual to go straight into a managerial role.

“Having worked for the same company during my pre-registration (a training placement), I was going to take this opportunity with both hands.

“My pre-reg was split three ways between a community pharmacy, a GP practice and a care home, so it was an unusual opportunity that meant I learned about different parts of the healthcare system.

“I was an integral part of communications between the three. I would spend two days in the pharmacy, two in the GP practice and one in the care home.

“I worked on a project to de-prescribe. I designed surveys that firstly looked at the patients’ lifestyle – bowel habits, mobility – and their medicines and medical history.

“This information was put together and I worked with the pharmacy and doctors to reduce medication.

“I enjoy being a manager. COVID hit us like every other pharmacy, it was a case of how quickly you could adapt.

“As a manager there is a lot that I am required to do as well as being a pharmacist, such as the business side of things as well as staff management.

“We have a close relationship with our local GP surgeries and having worked in one before I have more of an insight in terms of communications.”

Joel Philip, 22, Liverpool

“I have always been interested in medicines and how they work, but I knew I needed some experience.

“I have been undertaking a variety of tasks, the main one being dispensing but I have also been consulting patients on minor ailments, such as eye infections and skin conditions, to see if it is something that can be dealt with in the pharmacy or if the patient will need to see a doctor.

“When I first started I would work Saturdays and at times in the week during term time. During the summer I would be doing five or six days a week.”

“When the pandemic started it was completely different to what I had been exposed to. I had never seen that number of prescriptions come through before and the amount of work.

“Some patients were very demanding, and frustration is understandable when people are self-isolating and need their medication.

“I learned a lot very quickly about interacting with patients. This is a very customer-oriented role and you need to have patience and to explain that you are trying to do your best.

“It has taught me what I need for my career and I have developed people skills. You see all sides of life working in a pharmacy – people who are well off and those who are not doing so well or maybe struggling with addiction. It’s about trying to engage with them and making some sort of a difference.”

Shirin Mauji, 27, Bristol

“I went into pharmacy because I wanted to do something vocational in the healthcare sector that has lots of patient contact. I really like working with people and I am interested in pharmacology, physiology and how medicines affect the body.

“Academic experience prepares you but it cannot be compared to actually working in a pharmacy, to being in a workplace. There isn’t that level of responsibility in a classroom.

“I’ve worked at this pharmacy for the last two years, initially as a pre-reg, now I am a registered pharmacist.

“Lockdown was a testing time, less people came in but the workload went up. Sometimes patients could become frustrated and anxious but it is important with every interaction to be able to build rapport and empathise with patients and explain that we are doing everything we can to help them.

“I’d like to get more experience in community pharmacy and possibly become an independent prescriber. I’d like to increase my clinical skill set, offering other services. I’d like to be able to help people as much as I can.”

Jack Fewtrell, 21, New Brighton

“I dispense prescriptions that come down from surgery. I print the prescriptions, label them, then dispense. I also order all the stock we need.

““Interacting with patients was a challenge at first, I was not used to customer service but you learn. My aim is to become an accuracy checking technician.

“The best thing about working in pharmacy is knowing what I do will help someone and that it is for somebody’s health.

Stephanie Forrester, 23, Wallasey

“About five years ago I started work as a Saturday girl in the shop, doing over the counter sales.
I then started a level two pharmacy technician apprenticeship.

“My mum is a nurse so there is that healthcare side in the family. It is enjoyable to work in the pharmacy and to have that feeling of helping people.

“You build a relationship with patients and want to do good for them. You want people to leave feeling happy and confident.

“I have learned life skills in the pharmacy through speaking to people and organisation skills – you definitely have to be able to multi-task. It is also interesting to know about all the medicines and what they do.

“COVID was very stressful at the beginning, it was the unknown when it started. There was more work and people wanted medicines like paracetamol that had sold out.”

Tom Royle, 19

“Last year I started work as a student pharmacy assistant while studying pharmacy at Liverpool John Moores University.

“My mum was an accuracy checking technician and the pharmacy rang me up and offered me work for a couple of days a week after school. I was sorting bins and bottles, that kind of thing. It progressed from there and now I am studying pharmacy. I am hoping to get my degree and be registered as a pharmacist.

“It is a small team here. I prefer that as everyone gets to know each other. I live locally and it is nice to help people in your local community. In community pharmacy you have the personal touch. I feel like I am making a difference.

“It was really busy in the pharmacy when lockdown started and it could be quite demanding interacting with some patients, but people understand things better now.”

Why I became a pharmacist

by National Pharmacy Association board member, Reena Barai 

There was only one future profession that the young Reena Barai was ever going to choose. Living above her family’s pharmacy as a child, she says the first word she uttered was “prescription”. “I was always upstairs, but I wanted to be downstairs with the patients counting tablets.”

At nursery school, when asked by her teacher what she wanted to be, the young Reena replied “pharmacist”. Said Reena: “My nursery teacher told my dad that I would follow in his footsteps. Now I can’t imagine being anything else.”

After Reena left school, she went to university and initially had an interest in scientific research. “I wanted to find a cure for cancer,” she says and Reena took part in a leukaemia research project. But then she became a pre-registration hospital pharmacist where she specialised in different clinical areas – such as cardiac, renal, neonatal and care of the elderly.

Special bond

Finally, in 2003, she took over the family business and has worked there ever since. Her long association with the pharmacy means that Reena has a special bond with her patients. She feels privileged to be in a position to help people and save lives. “Some of my patients have known me since I was a baby. Going to work is not a chore, it is a pleasure to see these people every day and be that person they rely on.”

As a result Reena has built up long-standing relationships with patients over the years and she feels part of their lives. “One passes away, we cry; a baby is born and there is joy. It is a lovely profession in that way.”

Reena thinks the biggest misconception that some of the public may have about pharmacists is that they are just there to hand out pills and count tablets.

“My patients truly understand what pharmacists are able to do. We give advice, prevent hospital admissions and unnecessary GP appointments. We also reassure people, as has been

the case with COVID-19. It is not just sticking labels on a box.”

Part of the NHS family

Pharmacies like Reena’s are a crucial part of the NHS. According to an opinion survey carried out for the NPA last year, only 29% of people are “definitely aware” that community pharmacies are part of the NHS, despite the fact that pharmacies are the most visited of all settings where NHS care is offered.

Pharmacy teams work with other passionate, dedicated colleagues across the NHS to deliver patient-centred care. Reena says that focus on patient welfare means being a pharmacist is a profession in which you develop a variety of skills, extending far beyond a knowledge of medicines. “It is very patient-centred so you get to understand people’s behaviour; you also develop supervisory skills and the ability to work in a team.”

There is also the business side of running a pharmacy which Reena admits is not her favourite part of the job. “Balancing the books has become increasingly tough over the last few years.”

Human connections

No matter how technology changes the role of pharmacists in future, Reena believes there will always be a need for the human touch that gives community pharmacists a special appeal to the communities they serve.

“Will we be replaced by robots or drones? I think there will always be a need for face-to-face interaction, human connections. That’s where pharmacy will remain strong, a basic human need that pharmacy fulfils. People need to trust somebody, they want the personal touch.”

What does Reena think is the best part of being a pharmacist? “Being able to use my clinical knowledge to support my patients, help them to take their medicines, feel better if they are unwell, being near them and knowing they can call on me for empathy and trust.”

Your local pharmacy: a key part of the NHS team

Your local pharmacy is connected to the wider healthcare system; a key part of the NHS team, aiming to provide seamless NHS care for patients

Like GPs, community pharmacists are part of the NHS family.

The traditional role of the community pharmacist as the healthcare professional who dispenses prescriptions written by doctors has changed. Community pharmacists provide clinical services in addition to the traditional dispensing role to allow better integration and team working with the rest of the NHS.

A survey in June 2020 revealed that only 29% of people are “definitely aware” that pharmacists are part of the NHS; 39% wrongly think that the majority of income comes from sales of health and beauty products.

In fact, your local pharmacy is a key part of the NHS team, aiming to provide seamless NHS care for patients. They:

➣ Talk frequently to local GPs

➣ In some parts of the UK, pharmacists can view shared patient records to maximise patient safety

➣ Refer people to GPs or hospitals if they see danger signs 

Part of the NHS family

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other highly qualified healthcare professionals make up the NHS team in your neighbourhood – alongside many other dedicated staff.

Your local pharmacy is the NHS on the high street, providing a range of NHS services and support, including urgent care. Local doctors may refer you to the pharmacy for advice and treatment for minor ailments such as coughs, colds and tummy aches. In turn, the pharmacist will refer you for a GP or hospital appointment if something needs checking out further.

The best patient care is usually based on partnership between healthcare professionals, who may work in different settings and have different skill sets, but who come together to provide seamless care for the individual.

The NHS says it wants to make greater use of community pharmacists’ skills and opportunities to engage patients. So please make the most of your local community pharmacy: proudly part of the NHS family.

“High street pharmacists are highly qualified clinical experts who are playing a key part in the NHS’s frontline response to the greatest public health threat in our history,” NHS Chief Executive, Sir Simon Stevens

“My relationship as a GP is with the pharmacist across the road and it is much more mature now – the pharmacist across the road does minor injuries, minor illnesses, takes part in the flu vaccination programme, we have pharmacists within the surgery.

“It is a vital relationship between what I would say are the two most visible and prevalent health professionals in the community – your local GP and your local pharmacist.” Dame Clare Gerada, GP and former head of the Royal College of GPs

Primary Care Networks (PCNs)

Primary Care Networks (PCNs) in England enable health and other services to work together to provide better access for patients to specialist health professionals and services closer to home.

PCNs are groups of GP practices in a geographical area working closely together – alongside other healthcare staff and organisations, including community pharmacies – providing integrated services to the local population. Individual GP practices can establish or join PCNs covering populations of 30,000 to 50,000.

The networks provide the structure and funding for services to be developed locally, in response to the needs of the patients they serve. The aim is to provide better services and care for patients. Community pharmacy teams are encouraged to be fully involved in the work of their PCN. There are equivalent organisations elsewhere in the UK, for example GP Federations in Northern Ireland.

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