Ask your pharmacist for advice and support

We all know that pharmacists dispense medicines. But they do a lot more than that. Local pharmacies offer several health services that many of us aren’t aware of.

For example, pharmacies promote health and wellbeing and provide access to stopping smoking, sexual health and alcohol support services. These services could save you a trip to your GP, or help you to make healthy lifestyle changes.

Your pharmacy

In England, most of us are within a 20-minute car ride or walk of a community pharmacy. That means we all have quick and easy access to a pharmacist who's an expert in the safe use of medicines, and must be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council before they can practise. The whole pharmacy team plays an increasing part in supporting people to self care and improve their lifestyle to a more healthy one.

"You don’t need an appointment; you can just pop in," says pharmacist Bobby Mehta, who sits on the Slough branch committee of The Royal Pharmaceutical Society. "Any pharmacist is always happy to have a quick chat."

Pharmacies can also offer anonymity, which some patients may prefer. Don’t miss out on this valuable service on your high street. Find your nearest community pharmacies, and information on opening times and services offered, by using our Service search.

Your medicines

Pharmacists are trained experts in the use of medicines. They can advise you on the safe use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines.

Many pharmacies are open until late and at weekends, which is useful if you start feeling unwell at 9pm and the local GPs are all shut.

The New Medicine Service
If you are prescribed an anticoagulant (a blood thinning medicine) or a medicine to treat asthmaor chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure for the first time, you may be able to get extra help and advice about your medicine from your local pharmacist through a new free scheme called the New Medicine Service (NMS).

Learn more in the New Medicine Service Q&A.

Are you prescribed a medicine for a long-term condition? Many local pharmacies can help you with your repeat prescriptions.

Repeat dispensing
If you're regularly prescribed medicines, your pharmacist can offer repeat dispensing services, which means fewer trips to the GP just to get another prescription.

You get a prescription from your GP for up to a year, then you can get your medicine supplied at regular intervals without having to go to your GP every time. The pharmacist will normally chat to you every time you pick up your medicines to check how you are getting on with them and whether you are experiencing any undue problems or side effects. If so, the pharmacist can discuss this with your GP. Ask your GP about this service.

Reviewing your medicines
Many pharmacies now offer a special discussion of your medicines. This is called a Medicines Use Review (MUR).

If you regularly collect medicines from your pharmacy, the pharmacist may ask you how you've been getting on with the medicine. If you're having problems, they can offer advice or advise you to see your GP if necessary.

“The MUR is a detailed chat with your pharmacist about the medicines you take,” says Mehta. “You can talk about what you’re taking, when you should be taking it, and any side effects you might be concerned about. It’s especially useful for people who take a number of medicines.”

You can ask for an MUR or your pharmacist or GP might recommend one. They take place in a private consultation room in the pharmacy, and you don't have to pay. Afterwards, you’ll receive a written record of the consultation. A copy of it will be sent to your GP.

You can learn more by reading Medicines Use Review: understand your medicines (PDF, 1.1Mb).

Collecting old medicines
If your medicine is out of date, unwanted, or some of it is left over that you are not taking, do not throw it away yourself, but instead take it to your pharmacy to be disposed of safely.

Never throw away medicine in the bin, burn it or flush it down the toilet, as this can harm the environment.

To get the best from your prescribed medicines, take them as prescribed. It is OK to ask the doctor about the medicines that are being prescribed for you or to tell them that you are no longer taking them. Unused medicines are a waste of NHS resources.

When to go to your pharmacy

Pharmacies can help with a range of common conditions and minor injuries, such as aches and pains, uncomplicated cystitis, colds and skin rashes.

These kinds of health matters lead to around 57 million GP consultations a year. We could save ourselves and the GP time if we went to the pharmacy instead. No appointment is needed.

If you have one of these common conditions, your pharmacist can give advice and medicines, if appropriate. These medicines won't be on prescription, so you'll have to pay for them. Your pharmacist can also tell you if you need to see a GP.

You can learn more in Treating common conditions.

Here are a few other ways some local pharmacies can help:

  • Emergency contraception: if you need the morning-after pill. This can work for up to 72 hours after sex, but the sooner you take it the more likely it will work. Many pharmacies sell this over the counter after a consultation with the pharmacist. Some may provide it free on the NHS.
  • Needle and syringe exchange services.
  • Pregnancy tests. Most pharmacies provide pregnancy test kits, and a few have a private area where you can use the kit.

These kinds of health matters lead to to 57 million GP consultations a year. Going to the pharmacy instead saves time, and no appointment is needed.

Minor ailment services
All pharmacies can offer advice on the common health problems mentioned above. Some pharmacies also run minor ailment services that deal with specific common health problems.

“Pharmacies run schemes that deal with specific ailments, such as aches and pains, skin conditions and stomach upsets. If your pharmacy runs such a scheme, the pharmacist will be able to assess your needs, give you advice, suggest medicines if appropriate, and refer you to a GP if necessary,” says Mehta.

When pharmacies provide medicines as part of the minor ailment service, you get the medicines on the NHS. If you normally pay a prescription charge, this charge will apply here.

If you’re exempt from prescription charges – for example if you’re over 60 – you’ll get the medicine without a charge.

Not all pharmacies run a minor ailment scheme, but you can find one that does by using the Service search.

Improving health and wellbeing

Pharmacy teams are increasingly supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing. They also support self care, so they people can look after themselves and their families without having to go to a GP every time.

Pharmacists and their teams offer healthy lifestyle advice that covers topics such as diet and nutrition, physical activity, losing weight and stopping smoking, especially if you have diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, are a smoker or are overweight.

“Some pharmacies are now offering healthy heart clinics,” says Mehta. “Others are running weight management clinics, offering advice on healthy eating and physical activity."

Those with serious long-term conditions, such as diabetes, will still need regular reviews with their GP or a specialist. The pharmacist will be able to advise when best to go and see a GP.

Stop-smoking services are also on offer at many pharmacies as part of local NHS Stop Smoking Services. As well as getting Nicotine Replacement Therapy – such as nicotine gum or patches or other stop smoking medicines – on the NHS, you'll meet with your pharmacist to discuss your progress. Visit the NHS Smokefree website for more advice on how to quit.

Not all pharmacies offer these services, but you can check which services your local pharmacy provides by using the Service search. Or just ask your local pharmacist.

“There's much more on offer at your local pharmacy than just bottles of pills,” says Mehta.

More information

Learn more about pharmacies and the services they offer in Pharmacists and chemists.

Page last reviewed: 26/10/2012

Next review due: 26/10/2014


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The 7 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Mrs D A JT said on 27 June 2013

How do I find out what services a pharmacy actually offers? It seems the service and cost varies by location as well as by the availability of a pharmacist. They is also the risk that the pharmacist on duty does not offer all services like contraception as they view their own ethics and beliefs above those of supporting patients and customers.

Why doesn't NHS choices add services to the Pharmacy locator service?

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Reticulata said on 10 November 2012

Ask Your Pharmacist Week has nothing to do with health promotion. It is a commercial marketing campaign by the trade body, NPA (National Pharmacy Association) who have an aim to help their members succeed commercially.

Another aim of the NPA is to influence decisions and represent their members. They are not representative of patients needs or patients rights. They have been criticised for delaying innovation and lower cost of delivering health messages.

Local pharmacies continue to sell medicines with non-medical items which may create an economic bias in giving out advice to 'customers'

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Balarie said on 19 February 2012

No wonder health outcomes for the poor are so bad when authors of articles such as this one reassure us 'most of us are within a 20-minute car ride of a community pharmacy. That means we have quick and easy access to a pharmacist ' The we will of course exclude half of the poorest fifth of households who do not own or have access to a car. It also doesn;t worry too much about the two in five women who do not drive. Pharmacies are no more accessible than GP surgeries and the focus is to build larger health centres in central locations which include GPs, Pharmacies and others. This makes it even more difficult for the elderly, the ill, and vulnerable (emergency contraception) to access health care. Rather than reassure this article may be better written expressing the ways for everyone to access pharmacy services.

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Wiggum said on 09 November 2011

@allthatsleft is correct in wishing the patient is referred to another pharmacy however the Equality Act works in the oppoiste way. In other professions service providers are required to provide the same level of service to all consumers and patients and cannot opt out of supplying a product or service due to their own personal beliefs. The pharmacy regulators have an opt out and do not even have to record whan they refuse to serve a patient who requires a particular type of medicine that the pharmacist object to provide, such as the morning after pill.

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Trimbel said on 10 September 2011

I would be more inclined to visit my local pharmacy if I had a chance to understand the pharmacist. So often the pharmacist does not have English as a first language and a heavy accent has stopped my understanding what they are saying. It is difficult enough to follow latin sounding ailments and treatments but add language problems and it is easier to go back to the GP surgery. Why are pharmicists excluded from English language requirements?

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allthatsleft said on 17 January 2011

@LadyMarm: The policy in place should have still allowed you to access to services. The pharmacist involved should have contacted another pharmacy in the area for you to check stock and given you instructions on how to get there at least. If pharmacists were prevented from working because of their moral/ religious beliefs the company would be breaking the Equality Act 2010. Similarly doctors can refuse to prescribe such treatment as you described.

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LadyMarm said on 28 November 2010

I would definitely trust and use my local pharmacy more if I could be certain the pharmacist would dispense any medicine I required or had been prescribed. Unfortunately, my local pharmacy will not issue contraception or 'the morning after' pill. It is quite alarming the moral beliefs of a pharmacist over-ride the health needs of a patient. What I found really difficult is that I only found out when I requested help and was refused to be served. Shouldn't pharmacists who have strong personal beliefs which limit their ability to serve patients have a notice or other public record so patients could avoid them for certain medicial help?

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