Avoid lengthy wait times at your local surgery and know when to visit the pharmacy instead.
By Annie Hayes
Need medical advice for a health concern? Help is at hand, and it’s closer than you think. Pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals that can offer health and wellbeing advice, answer questions about existing prescriptions, and supply over-the-counter medicines to treat a variety of minor illnesses.
As many as one in four GP appointments could be taken care of at a pharmacy, research by NHS England found – but even if your symptoms are more serious, your pharmacist can advise whether you need to see a doctor, nurse, or specialist. Many pharmacies are open until late and at weekends, and you don’t even need to book an appointment.
You should not go to a pharmacy if you have symptoms of coronavirus – a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, or a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste – or if you live with someone who has symptoms. To prevent the spread of COVID-19, call your local pharmacy or contact them online before going in person.
We spoke to superintendent pharmacist Hussain Abdeh, clinical director for Medicine Direct, to find out more about how your local pharmacist can help you:
Can pharmacists prescribe medicine?
Pharmacists can recommend a wide range of over-the-counter and pharmacy-only medicines (also known as P-Meds) to help with a variety of common health concerns. These include:
- Coughs, colds and sore throats
- Tummy troubles
- Aches and pains
- Skin rashes
- Eye infections
- Head lice
- Bites and stings
- Warts and verrucas
Some pharmacies offer a minor ailments service, which supplies medicines for certain conditions on the NHS. If you are entitled to free prescriptions and registered with a doctor who is taking part in the scheme you can use this service.
Pharmacists can recommend a wide range of over-the-counter and pharmacy-only medicines to help with a variety of common health concerns.
For prescription-only medicines (POMs), your pharmacist can only prescribe them in emergency circumstances, says Abdeh. The specific factors that influence whether the pharmacist can prescribe an emergency supply of medicine include:
- Proof that the patient has been prescribed the medication previously
- The patient is able to see the pharmacist face to face
- The pharmacist agrees that the patient needs the medication immediately and that the required dose is suitable
⚠️ If you or someone you live with have symptoms of COVID-19, the team at NHS Volunteer Responders can help with collecting medicines and prescriptions. Call 0808 196 3646 between 8am and 8pm to arrange help from a volunteer.
Can pharmacists diagnose?
Pharmacists can help to assess a number of health conditions, and where appropriate will recommend either over-the-counter or pharmacy medicines to treat the condition, says Abdeh. ‘A pharmacist will also be able to tell you whether your condition requires the attention of a doctor or GP, who will diagnose your condition and likely prescribe a POM.’
Some pharmacists complete a training course to become a pharmacist independent prescriber (PIP). ‘Similar to a doctor, a PIP is able to prescribe medication for any condition that they are clinically competent in,’ says Abdeh. ‘PIPs came into effect in 2006 and were introduced as a means to help many GP surgeries cope with the growing number of patients.’
Can pharmacists give injections?
Pharmacies can provide a range of vaccination services, from travel vaccinations – like cholera and rabies – to hepatitis B and human papillomavirus (HPV). Most pharmacies also offer flu vaccinations during the winter months. Pharmacies offer the free NHS flu vaccine to the following:
- People over 65.
- Pregnant women.
- People with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, COPD, kidney or liver disease.
Check with your pharmacist if you are entitled to a free NHS flu vaccine. If you are not entitled to a free NHS flu vaccine, then your pharmacist may offer you a flu vaccine as a private service. The cost of this varies – usually between £7-£15.
Pharmacists who have experience in handling vaccinations will administer the COVID-19 vaccine. ‘For pharmacists to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine, they will be required to undergo full training, including how to handle possible cases of adverse reactions to the vaccine,’ says Abdeh.
Can pharmacists prescribe antibiotics?
For the most part, pharmacists can only prescribe antibiotics if they are qualified as a PIP. ‘Another circumstance that permits a pharmacist to prescribe antibiotics is if their patient is under a patient group direction (PGD),’ says Abdeh.
‘A PGD allows medicines to be supplied to a patient with a diagnosed clinic condition that does not require a prescription.’ This might include a urinary tract infection, toddler conjunctivitis, or eczema, for example.
What other services do pharmacists offer?
Aside from dispensing prescriptions and providing advice on minor illnesses, community pharmacists can offer a range of different services to their patients, says Abdeh. These include:
✔️ Advice for existing prescriptions
Pharmacists can manage repeat prescriptions initially prescribed by a doctor, and answer questions you may have about your medication, ‘such as how to cope with potential side effects and when is best for you to take it,’ says Abdeh. If you take lots of different medicines, you may benefit from a consultation known as a medicines use review (MUR).
Your pharmacist can support you if you begin taking medicine for conditions such as asthma, high blood pressure, or diabetes, or if you start on blood thinning medicine such as warfarin. ‘For example, a pharmacist can ensure you are using the right inhaler technique to get the most from your medicine,’ says Abdeh. They can also safely dispose of unused or out-of-date medicines.
✔️ Help to quit smoking
Trying to quit tobacco? Your pharmacist can help you stub out the habit for good with the NHS Stop Smoking Service. They’ll monitor how you are getting on and share motivational tips to keep you on track. You can also get advice on the different types of nicotine replacement products available.
✔️ Travel health advice
Next time you’re planning a trip overseas, head to your local pharmacy for travel health advice. Many pharmacists offer malaria prevention consultations to help you get the right medication without having to visit your surgery. Plenty of them have travel clinics to keep your vaccinations up to date.
✔️ Healthy living advice
Pharmacists can support your health and wellbeing. Many high street pharmacies are now recognised as Healthy Living Pharmacies, which means they have trained staff to offer lifestyle advice spanning nutrition, weight loss, keeping active and drinking less alcohol. Some pharmacies also offer health checks to measure your blood pressure and assess your diabetes risk.
✔️ Emergency contraception
A pharmacist can help with emergency contraception. You can purchase Levonelle One Step, EllaOne or generic levonorgestrel emergency contraceptive tablets from your pharmacist after a consultation. Some pharmacists also offer a service that allows them to supply emergency contraception on the NHS to women aged 16 to 24.