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Pharmacy services

What to expect from your pharmacist

Pharmacists play a key role in providing quality healthcare. They are experts in medicines and will use their clinical expertise, together with their practical knowledge, to ensure the safe supply and use of medicines by the public.

A pharmacist has to be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) and have worked for at least a year under the supervision of an experienced and qualified pharmacist, either in a hospital or community pharmacy such as a supermarket or high street pharmacy.

However, you can find pharmacists working in a variety of places, such as in the pharmaceutical industry, prisons, teaching and research, the military, veterinary pharmacies and pharmacy organisations.

Hospital pharmacist

Around 20% of pharmacists work in hospitals and play an essential role in patient care. Working as part of a multidisciplinary team, hospital pharmacists manage case loads and provide treatment programmes for all hospital patients. They specialise in a wide variety of clinical areas, such as respiratory medicine, cardiology, infectious diseases, paediatrics and critical care.

Community pharmacists

Around 70% of pharmacists work in the community in premises on local high streets all over the country. Community pharmacists prepare and dispense prescription and non-prescription medicines. They are also able to give you advice about how to use your medicines and highlight any possible side effects.

They offer advice on common problems such as coughs, colds, aches and pains, as well as healthy eating and stopping smoking. They can also help you decide whether you need to see a doctor.

This means that your pharmacist may ask you a range of questions before handing over any medicines, especially if you ask for medicines that do not require a prescription.

Questions your pharmacist may ask include:

  • Have you taken the medicine before?
  • Who is the medicine for?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • How long have you had these symptoms?
  • What action has already been taken?
  • Are you taking any other medication for this or any other reasons?

Find out what questions you should ask about your medicines

 

You can talk to your pharmacist in confidence, even about the most personal symptoms, and you don't need to make an appointment. It is possible to walk into any community pharmacy and ask to speak with the pharmacist. They may be able to spend some time with you or offer you an appointment for a consultation. All the discussions with your pharmacist can take place in person or by phone.

Around 85% of pharmacies now have a private consultation area where patients can discuss issues with pharmacy staff without being overheard by other members of the public.

 

What services do pharmacists offer?

Pharmacists dispense prescriptions and other medicines, offer testing and screening for common conditions, and can advise on minor ailments. Not all pharmacies supply the same services and depend on NHS priorities in that area.

The services that may be available from your local pharmacy are:

  • dispensing
  • repeat dispensing
  • disposal of unwanted or out-of-date medicines
  • Medicines Use Reviews (see drop box below) 
  • Medicine Service 
  • The Electronic Prescription Service (see drop box below)
  • screenings (chlamydia or allergy screenings)
  • flu vaccinations
  • health checks (blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose testing)
  • prescription collection from local GP surgeries on behalf of patients
  • emergency contraception
  • truss fittings
  • incontinence supplies
  • needle exchange and supervised drug administration
  • pregnancy testing
  • stop smoking services
  • weight management
  • supplementary and independent prescribing – some pharmacists can now prescribe prescription medicines for certain medical conditions
  • treatment of minor ailments, including bugs and viruses, minor injuries, tummy troubles, women's health, skin conditions, allergies and children's problems

Read the article Dispensing care where it's needed most and find out how Laura Brown has made her pharmacy a model of how to dispense quality healthcare to the community.

Out-of-hours service

Community pharmacies already play their part in the provision of out-of-hours (OOH) pharmacy services through extended opening hours, rota services and on-call services. They can also set up OOH pharmaceutical services, such as minor ailment schemes, which support the provision of OOH services by NHS England or organised OOH providers.

OOH medicines can be supplied by community pharmacies. However, in many areas a specific OOH provider supplies medicines when pharmacies are closed.

If a prescription is obtained through the OOH service, prescription charges are still applicable unless the patient is exempt. The payment method may differ from one provider to another.

Medicines Use Review (MUR) service

This is is an appointment with a pharmacist to check how you are getting on with your medicine, which is useful if you regularly take several prescription medicines or have a long-term illness.

This confidential service will help you find out more about your medicine, identify any problems you may be having with taking your medicine as intended, and help you take your medicine to best effect.

What is the Electronic Prescription Service?

2012 figures show that aound 2.7 million prescriptions are issued in England every day, which works out as more than 1,900 a minute. The Electronic Prescription Service (EPS) allows electronic prescriptions to be generated, transmitted, received and dispensed by pharmacists.

Download the EPS patient information leaflet (PDF 52.8kb), which explains how you can use the service in detail.

Over time, the EPS will bring a range of benefits to patients, GPs and other staff. For example, patients will no longer have to visit their GP surgery just to collect a prescription. This will save time for both patients and GP surgery staff. 

It will also improve accuracy because prescription information will not need to be typed in by the GP and again by the pharmacist. Prescriptions will be complete, with full details of the medicines being prescribed.

Electronic prescriptions mean that many pharmacists will no longer need to collect patients' prescriptions from surgeries. Prescription details will not need to be keyed in by pharmacists, saving time and making it easier to manage stock.

How do I make a complaint about my pharmacy?

Any complaint regarding a pharmacist, pharmacy technician or the owner of a pharmacy should be made in writing to the General Pharmaceutical Council.

You can raise a concern by completing the online complaints form (PDF, 121kb) and returning it to the General Pharmaceutical Council, either by email concerns@pharmacyregulation.org or by post:

Raising a concern
General Pharmaceutical Council
129 Lambeth Road
London
SE1 7BJ

Tel: 020 3365 3603

Find out more about how to complain in our NHS complaints section.

How do I train to be a pharmacist?

To become a pharmacist in the UK, you will need:

  • A-level chemistry plus other A or AS-levels, such as biology and mathematics
  • a four-year Master of Pharmacy degree from a UK school of pharmacy
  • one year's practical training in a pharmacy after completing your degree (this is called pre-registration training)
  • to pass an examination at the end of your year of pre-registration training so you can register with the General Pharmaceutical Council

Read more about the education and training recognised by the General Pharmaceutical Council. Further information is also available on the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) Careers website.

For more information on careers for pharmacists in the NHS, as well as many other professions, visit the NHS Careers website.

Comments

The 24 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

Bidgooder said on 18 October 2014

Why don't pharmacists spoend more time improving their stock and supply levels of medicines instead of always asking if they can review my medications? There is a 25% the pharmacy has my drugs available. Another 25% of the time they simply tell me there are supply problems and they cannot get hold of them for another 1 month / 2 months.

The pharmacy industry is letting patients down.

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keep popping them said on 07 August 2014

Asda pharmacy Carcroft
Excellent service! The pharmacist wanted to have a word with us regarding our prescribed drugs (which is annoying and we always decline because the drugs are prescribed by our Doctor and the hospital consultants and we do trust them). Shame he couldn't fulfil the prescription because of alleged non supply by the pharmaceutical company. We were informed that they hadn't been able to get the drug for 1 month, 2 months or 3 months they couldn't be sure. They also could not give us the full amount of one of the other drugs that were on the prescription. This happens regularly. It is a bit hilarious that they want to discuss our taking drugs when they haven't actually given then to us. Can the pharmacists stop asking to discuss our drugs, we don't like it? Just concentrate on getting a better supplier.

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andrewpeters said on 14 July 2014

I do get fed up with some pharmacists when getting my regular prescription for asthma..

I use various places and more often than not I get asked "Can I speak to you about your medication?"

Well.. actually no you cant. I am 52 years old and a life long asthmatic who has been perfectly capable of controlling my ailment.

This happned to me today at my local sainsburys in house pharmacy. Having gone back to pick up the meds the pharmacist asked me if I"... had a few minutes". I said "What for?" he said "To speak to you about your medication" I politely told him "I dont need to speak about my medication.. thank you" He looked quite taken back.. and gave me the meds.

Well.. sorry.. but just do not even think about asking me!

The only time I would consider speaking about my medication is if I had a specific question. I really do not expect to be accosted every time I pick my prescription up.

My asthma is between myself and my GP who signs the prescription.

Ok.. I know that perhaps the pharmacist is only trying to be helpful but I now believe there should be an 'opt out' on the prescription that stops the pharmacist from approaching the customer to "Speak about the medication"

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Crimson_chin said on 24 March 2014

I went to my local pharmacy this morning with a private prescription. The attendand tootk the prescription to the pharmacist and they kept talking for a couple of minutes. The attendant came back and told me they did not have it. I asked them if they could order it for me, they replied "No". Apart from a very unfriendly service and the abruptness they did not offer me any alternative, did not tell me to go somewhere else. Why did they not want to order it for me? Any views?

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Ae0lus said on 12 December 2013

Why do pharmacists still sell lollies? Do they not see the irony of selling sweets next to toothpaste? Profit before care?

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Beit Zaid said on 06 November 2013

If I cannot find a medicine in the UK would my pharmacist recommend I seek it from another EU country through their pharmacy services? Syndol is no longer available in the UK but is available in other countries, as it was freely available in the UK until recently.

I understand the potential dangers of ordering medicine or anything else for that matter over the internet however this seems the only possible route for some treatments which are not unsafe but are not licensed in the UK for over the counter sales.

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Choykov72 said on 27 October 2013

Although pharmacists are regulated half of the GPhC appointed council members are ... Pharmacists. The GPhC is regularly criticised for its fitness to practice investigations which seem to be more supportive to offending pharmacists and others in the profession than the public would be.

I would have more confidence in pharmacy work if they were members of a patient led organisation or at least a consumer watchdog organisation.

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wellnesspharmacist said on 22 September 2013

Just a bit of info
Pharmacists are strongly regulated by GPhC and Health Authorities (Wales) PCTs (England). Any complaints can be directed to them.
Pharmacies have to be profit making enterprises but are no different to GP surgeries even hospitals in that respect. The NHS contracts a limited number of pharmacies to ensure even spread and best value.
Personally I agree with the lollipops and non-medicine items, and have focussed strongly on patient services and healthcare only.
I'm sure most pharmacies are trying their best- shop around if you don't feel are getting the best service, you are free to take your NHS prescription anywhere in the UK

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wellnesspharmacist said on 22 September 2013

Hey, a little disappointing to hear some of the negative comments here, but every profession I guess has its challenges.
I'm an independent pharmacy contractor to the NHS, although any business has to be profit-making (e.g. your GP practice) hopefully the majority of pharmacists will be trying their best. Multiple pharmacies may have a different feel to Independents who have to try and outshine on customer service to compete, but there are many corporate colleagues I respect highly

Personally I strongly agree with the views on lollipops and non-medicines. This was something I changed in my business Medicine Centre back in 2004, so we could focus solely on Healthcare and not be distracted by all the peripheral stuff.

Regarding Pharmacists being checked, we have a stringent rule making body the GPhC and have regular audits from them and also our Health Authorities in Wales (PCTs in England) Complaints about NHS services can be made to them and are acted on.
Hope the above info is useful!

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Pommy said on 23 November 2012

Five weeks ago, I went to a pharmacy to get a prescribed medicine. They only had one of the four required and gave me a slip to come back later.

When I went back today they said that they could not find my medicines and I was asked, in the kind of voice used when talking to an imbecile, if I had already collected them ( in spite of still having the reclaim slip ).

Then I was told, in the same derogatory tone, that they must have delivered them to me. I was fuming at this stage but agreed to go and check with my lodgers as I felt on the point of shouting at her.

I had specifically asked to return to collect them because I am aware of the problems of deliveries going missing. They they treat me like that!

Because its a private profit making company I cannot make any meaningful complaint to them.

They also sell sugar lollies for 20p to encourage children to eat food to decay their teeth. I am sure those are sold for the profit it generates and not for any health reason!

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labradoodle said on 16 October 2012

My husband received a prescription from an A&E department late last night, the hospital Pharmacy closed at 5pm. He took the prescription to our local Pharmacy and they refused it stating he had to return to the hospital that gave it to him. Surely this cannot be right. He is in agony and unable at present to get his precription.

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Vigiarr said on 01 September 2012

This article implies you can simply walk in to your local chemist and see a pharmacist. It even states you do not need to make an appointment.

Whenever I have asked to see the pharmacist I have been told they are either out at a meeting, at lunch, or otherwise busy or engaged. I am simply told to call back later or try elsewhere.

The same attitude of "call back later" applies to collecting prescriptions. Do the NHS monitor service levels with pharmacies in the community like they do with other NHS services?

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User694546 said on 02 July 2012

In reply to gunters misleading comments about pharmacist ethics.

Cough syrups were designed to relive the symptoms associated with the cough not treat the underlying causes. For some people it does help whilst for others not so much. A pharmacist will never happily sell you a product that is unsuitable or detrimental for you. Some people even after knowing that the product might not work still insist on purchasing the product because they just want to do something about it. How many times have you heard patients demanding antibiotics for colds even though it has no effect?

Pharmacist do not mislead patients about any medicines they sell.

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Guntur said on 11 March 2012

I do not understand how pharmacist can be experts in medicine and yet still happily sell patients and shoppers non-medicines like cough mixtures and linctus which have no good evidence for their use in those with a cough.

Surely it is unethical for a pharmacist to sell products which do no good. Perhaps they are just influenced by the profit they make on the sale?

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wbrown said on 08 February 2012

My Pharmacist is superb! I consult him more often than i do my GP, as i have known him for a long time and trust him. Contrary to some of the above comments, my pharmacist does not just stick a label on a box! They use their intensive 5 years worth of training to clinically assess all my prescriptions. He is also very knowedgeble about a wide range of health conditions.
Only a pharmacist has the unique clinical skills to assess the suitability of medicines for a particular patient by taking into account the dose, medical condition, patient characteristics (age, allergies, long term conditions etc..) and of course the many drug interactions that exist.

we are so lucky to have such dedicated healthcare professional available on every high street. Thank you Pharmacists!

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Eggham said on 08 November 2011

Although pharmacists can offer advice it is never impartial, They always have a retail / business owner hat as well as a professional advice hat. They wear them both at the same time and I often find them advising me to buy non-prescription items alongside the prescription mediicines.

This article does not explain how the pharmacy industry does nothing to avoid this conflict of interest between good medical advice and maximising profits.

Why do retail sales staff wear clinical overcoats in pharmacies anyway? It is all very confusing and a reason why many people like me always go to see a GP who has no financial interest in selling medicines.

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Refriedn said on 07 November 2011

Although pharamcists are well trained they offer poor value and poor customer service.

1) They can refuse to provide medicine including contraceptives due to their own personal beliefs, which are allowed to surpass those of treating patients.
2) Most pharmacies do not offer any appointment system. Although pharmacists are local in a community the need for a (sick) customer to simply return at a more covenient time is driven by the requirements of the pharmacist not the patient.
3) They encourage medicines to be kept on the Prescription-Only Monopoly rather than freely available as over-the-counter or through super-markets, internet and cheaper retail distribution channels. This ensures their patients pay higher prices to keep their retail shops open and profits high.
4) Many do not have English as a first of even second language and are difficult to understand.

It would be helpful to record the average earnings of a pharmacist if their years of training are promoted on comments.

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User9999 said on 22 August 2011

Retail and hospital pharmacists both come out of university with identical qualifications and it's the training and experience they get after this which determines their particular expertise.
Hospital pharmacists usually have greater clinical knowledge owing to the clinical diploma they have to undertake as part of their training. Some retail pharmacists also do a clinical diploma, however, it isn't considered routine.
Retail pharmacists focus more heavily on retail business management, diagnosing and treating minor ailments and act as triage in the community, saving doctors time by avoiding unnecessary appointments. This is a service which costs the NHS nothing as it is funded by the private sale of medicines.
They are also essential to regulate the distribution of prescription medicines and pharmacy only medicines.
They are now expanding the NHS services they provide to include sexual health screening and treatment, addiction treatment, smoking cessation, vaccinations, disease screening (diabetes, chlamydia, hepatitis). As this is a part of the profession still in development, service provision can be patchy and usually depends on the support of the local health authority (primary care trust).
So rather than having time on their hands to test blood pressure because their job is so easy, they are actively seeking to expand the healthcare services they provide to the general public both privately and NHS commissioned.
Much like doctors and nurses in general practice.

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cukoo22 said on 11 April 2011

Dear User533684,

I am sorry that you appear to have a poor impression of pharmacists.

Although this page doesn't express it clearly, and chemist22 did a much better attempt at clarifying, a pharmacist is far more that a dispenser who checks if a label is printed properly.

Pharmacists undergo 5 years of intensive training and examination (following A-levels) before they can be considered a junior pharmacist. This is only one year less that a doctor, and 2/3 years more than a nurse and other professions. This time is not spent learning how to read a computer screen.

The majority of the 4 year masters degree is spent learning about the chemistry, pharmacokinetics and the mechanism of action of drugs. There is such a heavy focus on how the medicines actually work because this is hardly covered at all during a doctor or nurses education. The pharmacists role is to support the prescribing of appropriate drugs by supporting their healthcare colleagues. It is impossible for you doctor to know everything, and they rely very heavily during their hosptial induction years on the expertise of the ward pharmacist.

A pharmacist is the prescriber's (doctor or dentists) safety net. They make sure the medication prescribed will not harm you. On average a pharmacist has to correct about 10% of the prescriptions they receive in a community pharmacy and about 50% in hospital. Many countless lives have been saved by the actions of the pharmacist and it saddens me that their skills are so under appreciated.

When your local pharmacist is double checking your prescription, it is not to make sure the computer did it correctly, but to be sure there are no interactions with your other medication; with your medical condition; or with your body in general. They are also deciding if this is the safest medication for you, and will often call your GP to discuss any concerns.

I hope that reassures you that a pharmacist is far more that a 'technician'.

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Pepsicle said on 02 March 2011

It would be helpful to see a list of services available at local, community pharmacies on the NHS choices website. It would also be patient focussed to advise which parmacists opt out of offering medicines due to personal beliefs. If I need emergency contraception I do not want to find out that the pharmacist serving me refuses to issue it on ethical grounds if I can avoid it. At the moment it is trial and error. I accept pharmacists are highly educated but they seem to miss out of patient and customer service and care.

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User533684 said on 01 March 2011

Dear LadyMarm.

A pharmacist can best be described as a technician involved in the health care process. Best way to think of this is when a Healthcare professional ie Dentist/GP prescribes your medicine, the GP is using all the medical training and experience to hand to find the best treatment. The GP is therefore your medical expert. Now when you visit the pharmacy, it is often the dispenser who is will prepare your medicine and the pharmacist as a final check will check the medicine against what they have on their computer & get the label ready for the patients' ease.

Nurses are trained slightly different in that their knowledge of the actual disease and patient care is superior to a pharmacist. A pharmacist is however the best placed person to check your medicines & dosages & if you are ever unsure you can always obtain a BNF (british national formulary) or use reputable sites on the net.

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L6000 said on 01 January 2011

I was hoping to see if not a direct link to information about which is the duty chemist locally on any day, then at least information about where I can find out. Tried to ring NHS direct but there is a massive wait and a four hour ring back time. Would be extremely helpful to have this information online.

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chemist22 said on 04 December 2010

Dear LadyMarm, All pharmacists are required- via the new Pharmacy Contract- to offer a set minimum of services.
Following this, the additional services a pharmacist offers is dependent upon the company for whom they work.
Healthcare professionals, i.e- pharmacists, doctors, nurses, dentists are all required to be highly educated and trained- represented by holding the respective qualifications and membership to respective professional bodies. The difference lays in the fact that the pharmacist is the drug expert- the Master of Pharmacy degree is heavily science orientated alongside healthcare training and covers a huge variety of subjects to deep extents- meaning we can deal with a greater variety of situations to a nurse and when it comes to medications and their usage- to a doctor. We know how the drugs are made, what they look like at a molecular level and therefore how they affect the body as we have a deep understanding of physiology. We know how each drug interacts with others and when and how to take properly to get the best results. We know, based on clinical evidence, which drug is best for each medical condition and at what doseage and for how long- along with what needs to be monitored. You pharmacist takes all of this into account when dispensing your prescription. You will find that many pharmacists hold further qualifications and are specialists within specific areas such as diabetes. The main point is that all pharmacists have a minimum educational and training standard- which is extremely high. We have to keep up to date with new knowledge via continuing professional development- and we are assessed once a year on this. It is up to the pharmacist if he or she wants to further their training in certain areas following this.

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LadyMarm said on 28 November 2010

How are patients suppose to know which pharmacy offers which service. It is not listed on the NHS choices website. Is there a minimum standard of services available, as with GPs or can each pharmacy shop choose? This page only lists services that MAY be available. It would be helpful to know the servies which ARE provided at my local pharmacy. I would also like ot know if pharmacists have different qualification levels like nurses and doctors or are they all trained to the same standard. Are there any specialists in community pharmacies or are they all the same?

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Page last reviewed: 13/11/2013

Next review due: 13/11/2015

Prescription costs as of April 1 2014

  • Prescription – £8.05 per item
  • 12-month prepayment certificate (PPC) – £104.00
  • 3-month PPC – £29.10

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