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.
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.
If you’ve run out of a prescription medicine and you don’t have a prescription for it, an emergency supply can be provided, subject to the decision of the pharmacist.
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 In addition, if you have out-of-date or unwanted medicines, you can take them to your local pharmacy to be disposed of safely.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.
If you are on long-term medication for the treatment of specific medical conditions, you can also make an appointment with the pharmacist for a consultation called a Medicines Use Review. Here, you can discuss in more detail any problems you’ve been having. Importantly, the pharmacist can tell you whether it’s appropriate for you to continue taking any herbal or over-the-counter medicines alongside your new medication.
The repeat prescription service, available in some pharmacies, is especially useful if you regularly take the same medicines. Your GP will send your prescription to your preferred pharmacy, and you can then collect your repeat medication direct from that pharmacy. This makes it quicker and easier to get your prescription, and reduces the number of visits to your GP. Once you’re signed up for this service, you’ll need to check when you’re likely to run out of medicine and call the pharmacy a few days prior to that. The team can then request a new electronic prescription from your GP. You will always be asked if you’re having any issues with your prescription medicines such as adverse side effects, and if necessary, the team can discuss them with you and your GP.
The New Medicine Service is a free NHS scheme for anyone suffering with asthma, Type 2 diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or high blood pressure, or anyone who has been prescribed a new blood-thinning medicine. If you fall into one of these categories, the pharmacy team can give you extra advice when you start taking a new drug for your condition. It can be confusing when you start a new medication so the pharmacist will offer support over several weeks to make sure you’re using the medicine correctly. Under the scheme, you may be referred back to your GP if there’s an issue the pharmacist cannot solve.
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 those over the age of 65, pregnant women and patients with certain 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.