When you have a physical ailment, symptoms you’re worried about or you wish to seek medical advice, you may think your GP should be the first person to contact. However, in some instances, it may be appropriate to seek help from a pharmacist instead.
It takes many years of training to become a pharmacist, and these specialists are qualified to help you with minor ailments and medication advice. We’ve put together this handy guide that tells you more about what pharmacists do and exactly how they can help you.
What do pharmacists do?
Pharmacists are medicine and minor ailment experts, and they’re generally available Monday to Friday, and even sometimes Monday to Saturday, with no appointment necessary. These healthcare professionals can use their knowledge to provide you with suitable over-the-counter medicines, offer advice for minor ailments and concerns, inform you of the right dosage and when to take your medication and help you to live a healthier lifestyle.
Pharmacists work with GPs, nurses and other healthcare professionals to help care for the local community. This is especially important for those who may struggle to get a GP appointment or need advice quickly.
Help they can give you
You can speak to a pharmacist about the following conditions, ailments and treatments:
- Coughs, colds and flu
- Minor injuries, such as burns and cuts
- Skin conditions and rashes
- Gut health and tummy problems
- General aches and pains
- A sore throat
- Sexual health-related symptoms, conditions or medicines
- And more.
Qualifications they need
To legally practise as a pharmacist, they must undertake a four-year Master of Pharmacy (MPharm) degree, followed by a year in a pharmacy . For the first four years, they will learn the knowledge and skills required to be a pharmacist, which includes theoretical training and practice. For the final year of the course, they will complete a paid work placement, working in a pharmacy to get the practical experience they need. Upon completion, they will then take an exam, and upon passing can register with the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) to legally practise as a pharmacist.
As medicine is an ever-changing industry, they also need to keep up their knowledge of the medication available on the market. For this reason, they must perform regular continual professional development (CPD) as part of their job.
What you can see your pharmacist about
All these qualifications and training means pharmacists have the ability to offer medical advice and provide over-the-counter medication for minor illnesses, including coughs, colds, sore throats and general aches and pains. If they can’t solve your problem, they may point you in the direction of a GP, nurse or other healthcare professional, depending on what the problem is. Pharmacists usually cannot prescribe medications, including antibiotics, even for minor conditions, so in this instance you would need to book a GP appointment. Some pharmacists may have gone on to complete further training to become an Independent Prescriber (IP), in these cases an IP can prescribes medicines within their competency.
As well as offering general advice, there are some other tasks a pharmacist can do for you. They can:
- Give you an emergency supply of medication if you’ve run out
- Provide non-prescription medications and treatments
- Dispose of unwanted or expired medication
- Explain how to take your medication and what dosage you should be taking
- Provide you with repeat prescriptions.
Repeat prescriptions that are filled electronically can be picked up from your local pharmacy, however prescriptions that are on a green slip of paper would be issued by the GP and then passed to the pharmacy to be checked and dispensed. For this reason, it can take a little longer for your prescription to go to the pharmacy, but they will likely contact you when it’s ready.
The New Medicine Service is also available at your local pharmacy. The service is there to give you additional advice about a specific condition and the medication you need to take. A pharmacist can advise you on how to take the medication, as well as when to take it, for the following conditions:
- Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
- Type 2 diabetes
- High blood pressure
The service also covers those on blood thinning medication.
Finally, a pharmacist doesn’t just offer treatments when you’re ill or have an ailment - they can also provide preventative treatments that could stop you from getting sick in the first instance. Such treatments can include COVID-19 or flu vaccinations or help to stop smoking.
Can a pharmacist change your medication?
In order to make a change to a prescription, you will need to see a qualified medical professional who has the power to prescribe medications. Independent prescribers can do this, as can GPs. Many but not all pharmacists are registered as IPs, so it’s a good idea to check whether your local pharmacy can offer prescription services. If you don’t have access to an IP near you, you’ll need to consult your GP to change your medication.
Can you get contraception from a pharmacy?
Some hormonal contraceptives are now available at your local pharmacy, because they’re classified as over-the-counter medications. In order to get a non-prescription contraceptive pill, the pharmacist will need to ask you a few questions about your general health and current medication. If this is your first supply of such medication, they could give you three months’ worth. Once these three months have passed, you will be provided with more medication after a follow-up consultation.
Can you ask pharmacists questions?
Providing advice is one of the main parts of a pharmacist's job, so you can absolutely ask them questions. In fact, a pharmacy is often the best place to start, instead of trying to get a GP appointment in the first instance. They should be able to answer any questions around over-the-counter medications and minor ailments. Even if they can’t, they will point you in the direction of someone who can.
Can I check my blood pressure at a pharmacy?
Most people can get a blood pressure check in a pharmacy for a fee, however you can get a free blood pressure check at your local pharmacy, as long as:
- You’re over the age of 40
- You’ve not previously been diagnosed with hypertension or a similar, related condition AND
- You’ve not had your blood pressure taken in the last six months.
All of these criteria must be met in order to get a free blood pressure check.
Can you get free condoms from a pharmacy?
Free condoms are provided to anyone, even if you’re under the age of 16, from a contraception clinic or a sexual health clinic. Some doctors’ surgeries also provide them for free.
Condoms at a pharmacy are usually only available to buy.