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NHS pharmacy services explained

What to expect from your pharmacist

Pharmacists play a key role in providing quality healthcare.

They're experts in medicines, and use their clinical expertise, together with their practical knowledge, to advise you on common problems, 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 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 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 community pharmacy, such as a supermarket or high street pharmacy.

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

As well as working in hospitals, community pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry, you can find pharmacists working in a variety of places, such as prisons, teaching and research facilities, and the military.

Community pharmacist

Community pharmacists dispense and check prescriptions, and provide advice to patients on medicines that have been prescribed for them.

For example, they can provide advice on how to take medicines and a medicine's common side effects. Many NHS prescriptions are now issued via the Electronic Prescription Service.

Community pharmacists will take back medicines that are no longer required so they can be disposed of correctly. They can also provide advice on minor illnesses and staying healthy. Most – but not all – pharmacists are also able to offer other services to their patients.

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  • disposal of unwanted or out-of-date medicines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 conditions 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-hour (OOH) services through extended opening hours, rota services and on-call services. In addition, some pharmacies offer an OOH service, providing minor ailment schemes during the times other NHS services are not available.

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

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

Also read the information about out-of-hours medicines.

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.

How do I make a complaint about my pharmacy?

If you are 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 too uncomfortable to complain to the pharmacist directly then you can make a complaint to NHS England.

If you are not satisfied with the way the pharmacist/pharmacy has dealt with your complaint then 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, then you could contact the General Pharmaceutical Council instead. 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 General Pharmaceutical Council.

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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