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.
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 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:
- 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- Disposal of unwanted or out-of-date medicines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:
- Advice on alcohol consumption
- Support for carers
- Chlamydia screening and treatment service
- Condom supply service
- Emergency hormonal contraception service
- Emergency supply of prescription medicines
- Flu vaccination service
- Independent prescribing by pharmacists – some pharmacists can now prescribe prescription-only medicines for certain medical conditions
- Medicines use reviews
- Minor ailment service
- Needle and syringe exchange service
- New medicine service
- NHS Health Check – blood pressure, cholesterol or blood glucose testing
- Pregnancy testing
- Stop smoking service
- Stop smoking voucher service
- Supervised consumption of prescribed medicines
- Weight management service
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?
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.