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NHS pharmacy services explained

What to expect from your pharmacy team

Pharmacy teams play a key role in providing quality healthcare.

Pharmacists are experts in medicines, and use their clinical expertise, together with their practical knowledge, to advise you on minor health concerns, such as coughs, colds, aches and pains, as well as healthy eating and stopping smoking.

Pharmacists can also help you decide whether you need to see a medical health professional.

They can help you consider the alternatives next time you're thinking of making a doctor's appointment.

You can always call NHS 111, which will help you find the right NHS service.


Pharmacists and pharmacy technicians

Pharmacists are highly trained health professionals. Before becoming a pharmacist, they'll have completed a four-year university degree and worked for a year under the supervision of an experienced and qualified pharmacist, usually in a hospital or local pharmacy.

Pharmacists work across many NHS services, including hospitals, local pharmacies, GP practices, NHS 111, ambulance services and care homes. You can also find them in prisons, teaching and research facilities, the military and the pharmaceutical industry.

Learn about what a pharmacist does in different settings.

Pharmacy technicians have two-year diplomas in Pharmaceutical Science and Pharmacy Service Skills, including modules on medicines and how they work. Under supervision of a registered pharmacist, they’re qualified to:

  • prepare, sell and supply medicines
  • provide services including help with giving up smoking, support with weight loss and supervising methadone consumption

All pharmacists and pharmacy technicians have to be registered with the regulatory body for pharmacy professionals, the General Pharmaceutical Council.

What services do pharmacies offer?

All pharmacies provide the following services:

  • dispensing
  • repeat dispensing
  • disposal of unwanted or out-of-date medicines
  • advice on treatment of minor health concerns and healthy living

Other services that may be available from your local pharmacy:

If you have a long-term condition and you've been prescribed a new medicine for the first time, you may want to ask your pharmacist for the New Medicine Service. The pharmacist will then explain everything you need to know about your new medicine, including how to take it, and advise you about any common side effects.

The pharmacist may ask you a range of questions to ensure you're provided with the right medicine (including non-prescription medicines) and advice.

These may include:

  • Have you taken the medicine before?
  • Who's 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 medicines for this or any other conditions?

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's possible to walk into any community pharmacy and ask to speak with the pharmacist.

Most pharmacies now have a private consultation area where you can discuss issues with pharmacy staff without being overheard. Alternatively, you can arrange a consultation over the phone.


Out-of-hours service

Community pharmacies already support NHS out-of-hours services through extended opening hours, rota services and on-call services. Some pharmacies also offer an out-of-hours service providing minor ailment schemes when other NHS services aren't available.

Pharmacists may be able to supply prescription-only medicines during the out-of-hours period, but there may be a charge for this. In many areas, a specific out-of-hours provider, such as an out-of-hours GP service, supplies medicines when pharmacies are closed.

If a prescription is obtained through the out-of-hours service or an out-of-hours pharmacy service, prescription charges usually still apply, unless the patient is exempt from paying prescription charges. The payment method may differ from one provider to another.

Find out about out-of-hours medicines.

Medicines Use Review (MUR) service

This is is an appointment with a pharmacist to check how you're 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.

How do I make a complaint about my pharmacy?

If you're unhappy with the service you received at your pharmacy, speak or write to your pharmacist or the manager of the pharmacy they work for first.

If you feel uncomfortable complaining to the pharmacist directly, you can make a complaint to NHS England.

If you're not satisfied with the way the pharmacist or pharmacy has dealt with your complaint, you can take your complaint to the independent Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.

Find out more about the NHS complaints procedure.

If you have concerns about a professional's (pharmacist, pharmacy technician or pharmacy owner) ability to practise, you could contact the General Pharmaceutical Council. Fitness to practise refers to the skills, knowledge, character, and health a pharmacy professional must have to do their job safely and effectively. 

For more information, visit the General Pharmaceutical Council website.

Page last reviewed: 17/11/2015

Next review due: 30/04/2018

Prescription costs

  • Prescription – £8.60 per item
  • 3-month prepayment certificate (PPC) – £29.10
  • 12-month prepayment certificate (PPC) – £104.00

Get help with prescription costs

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