Did you know they can save you money, time and embarrassment?

Pharmacist handing over prescription to young woman

A major new public health campaign is urging people to consult a pharmacist first for minor illness, instead of their GP or A&E. The Stay Well campaign aims to reduce the number of unnecessary doctor and hospital visits, which are estimated to cost the NHS £850 million per year.

Due to research showing that just 6% of mums and dads with children under the age of five would consider seeking help about a minor health concern from a high street pharmacist in the first instance (despite 79% saying they are aware that pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals), Stay Well’s main focus is on parents with young children.

To boost awareness, we chatted with NetDoctor’s in-house pharmacist Rita Ghelani to for some top tips from the pharmacy world.

1.We want you to ask us about your medications

Don’t forget that your pharmacist has spent more time studying medicines than your doctor has, and they may even cover some information that you don’t have time to discuss in the consultation with your GP.

Take advantage of the ‘Medicine Use Review‘, which you can schedule in with your pharmacist to learn more about your meds. Rita explains:

“We will talk to you about your medicine for about about 10-15 minutes and whether you’re having any side effects or any worries taking them. For example if you have asthma, in the Medicine Use Review we would show you how to use an inhaler. If you’re not getting on with it, we can write to the doctor and let them know so you can get a different one.”

Pharmacists also offer a ‘New Medicine Service‘, so if you’ve recently been diagnosed with a condition, such as diabetes, and have started taking a medication, a pharmacist will contact you two weeks after you’ve been taking it to check if you have had any side effects or concerns.

Pills and tablets and antibiotics in a paper cup

2. Generic medicines are just as good as branded

Names of medicines are confusing enough, but add to the equation the terms ‘generic’ and ‘brand’ medicine and it can seem like a minefield. The generic name is the official medical name for the active ingredient of the medicine. The brand name is chosen by the manufacturer, usually on the basis that it can be recognised, pronounced and remembered by health professionals and members of the public. An example would be Ventolin inhalers. These contain salbutamol as the active ingredient, so are no different from a generic salbutamol inhaler.

“We do get a lot of people saying that generic and brand medicines are not the same, but as pharmacists we aren’t allowed to give anything different to what the doctor prescribes. So for us to give a generic medicine, we know it’s the same as what has been prescribed,” says Rita.

3. Be mindful of where you store your medicines

Keep in mind that wherever you keep your medicines, the heat, light and moisture can all cause the ingredients in your medicine to decompose. Avoid storing medicines in the bathroom, on windowsills and near radiators. Rita says:

“It’s good practise to keep the medicine in its original packets. For example, strips of tablets should always be stored in the box they were dispensed in – so if you put it in your handbag, try and keep in its original box. This helps with repeats or if you want to refer to your patient information leaflet, or even if there’s a recall on the medicine, you would have to look at the batch number.”

Hand with pills

4. Please order your repeat medicines in good time

If you’re taking a medicine regularly, it’s important to make sure you remember to reorder your prescription from the surgery before you run out. Your pharmacist can help you organise this through a repeat prescription service.

“People forget to order and it takes surgeries 48 hours to issue with us with a prescription, and even though we are able to help somewhat with emergency supplies, it’s always better to order it in time. We can help with the repeat prescription collection service, which most pharmacies offer,” says Rita.

5. We will help you save money if we can

It’s always worth seeing your pharmacist before your doctor if you have a minor aliment. With issues like hay fever, a sore throat or cold and flu, you may not necessarily need something on prescription:

“You can always come and see us and we can recommend something over-the-counter. However if you do get a prescription it’s still always worthwhile checking if it’s available over-the-counter. We can also help with recommending a pre-payment certificate. If you get more than three medicines in four months, it is cheaper for you to get a pre-payment certificate. The charge for a single prescribed medicine is £8.60, whereas a three-month PPC will cost you £29.10 and a 12-month PPC £104.00,” says Rita.

6. We can administer vaccines

Pharmacists are not only able to counsel people but some are now able to administer vaccines. Most pharmacies now offer flu vaccinations during the winter months. This means that you can get a flu vaccine at a time that suits you without having to visit the doctor’s surgery.

7. We don’t want you to feel embarrassed

What most people don’t realise is that most of the pharmacies now have private consultation rooms so there’s no need to worry about standing in the middle of a pharmacy and explaining your symptoms. Rita explains:

”You can chat to your pharmacist in private and if they can’t help with an over-the-counter treatment for you, they’ll tell you where to go to get help. For example, the emergency contraceptive and some pharmacists are signed up so they can actually give emergency contraceptives to 16-24 year olds free of charge.”

Pharmacist and patient in pharmacy

8. We’re the most accessible healthcare professionals

Pharmacists are the first port of call and the most accessible healthcare professionals on the high street. The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee have said that 95% of the population in England has access to a community pharmacy within a 20 minute walk.

9. Be consistent with your meds

It’s something that most of us forget to do at some point, but taking your medicine regularly at the same time each day is incredibly important. If you have a long-term condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure that requires you to take your medicine daily, it’s important that you remember to take it as directed. Rita says:

”Taking your medicine at the same time each day, placing your medicine next to the cup or bowl you use for breakfast every morning or setting an reminder alarm on your phone help you remember to take your medicine.”

Also before you leave the pharmacy, read the label printed on your medicine container. Check that it has your name on it and make sure you understand the directions on when and how to use/take the medication. And if you don’t, please ask!


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