How your pharmacist can help

We all know that pharmacists dispense medicines. But they do a lot more than that. Local pharmacies offer a range of health services that you may not be 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 make healthy lifestyle changes.

What your pharmacy offers

In England, most of us are within a short 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.

Pharmacists have to be registered with the General Pharmaceutical Council before they can practise. The whole pharmacy team is there to help you look after yourself and have a healthier lifestyle.

"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. "Pharmacists are 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.

Help with 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.

Lots of 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 asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), type 2 diabetes or high blood pressure for the first time, you can 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 about the New Medicine Service.

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 can 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 talk to your GP about this. Ask your GP about this service.

Reviewing your medicines

Many pharmacies now offer a special discussion of your medicines 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 them. If you're having problems, they can offer advice or, if necessary, advise you to see your GP.

"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.

See more about Medicines Use Reviews

Collecting old medicines

If your medicine is out of date, unwanted, or some of it is left over after you have stopped taking it, don't throw it away yourself. 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 medicines, take them as prescribed. It's OK to ask your doctor about the medicines they are prescribing for you or to tell them you are no longer taking them. Unused medicines are a waste of NHS resources.

When to see your pharmacist

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

Minor health problems like these lead to around 57 million GP consultations a year. We could save ourselves and our GPs 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.

Learn more about treating common conditions.

Here are a few other ways your local pharmacy may be able to help:

  • 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; lots of pharmacies sell this over the counter after a consultation with the pharmacist, and some may provide it free on the NHS
  • needle and syringe exchange services
  • pregnancy tests – most pharmacies sell pregnancy test kits, and some have a private area where you can use the kit

Minor ailment scheme

Some pharmacies also run a minor ailment scheme that deals with specific common health problems.

"Pharmacies run schemes that deal with specific ailments, such as aches and pains, skin conditions and stomach upsets," says Mehta.

"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."

When pharmacies provide medicines as part of a minor ailment scheme, 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 – if you're under 16 or over 60, for example, or if you have a prescription prepayment certificate (PPC) – you won't pay for the medicine.

Find a pharmacy near you.

Improving health and wellbeing

Pharmacy teams are increasingly supporting people to improve their health and wellbeing. They also support people to look after themselves and their families without having to go to a GP all the time.

Pharmacists and their teams offer healthy lifestyle advice that covers topics such as healthy eating, physical activitylosing 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 can advise on when is best to 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. Alternatively, you can 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 pharmacy services.

Page last reviewed: 26/10/2014

Next review due: 26/10/2016

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