The local pharmacy is usually a place to pick up your prescription after seeing the GP, or get some over-the-counter medications – but pharmacists can actually give patients much more than just medication access. 

Pharmacists are key to the primary care system in the UK, supporting patients in various ways you may not be aware of. 

In this blog, we’re going to highlight just how skilled pharmacists are. Looking into the services they provide and how the role supports GPs and primary care services. 

Medication – prescription, non-prescription, and advice & support.

Of course, pharmacists spend a lot of their time supporting patients with medications, but these aren’t always just prescribed by the GP, and it’s not always a case of dispense and delivery. 

For over-the-counter medications, pharmacists can advise and prescribe the best medication depending on the patient’s needs and medical history without a prescription. This is especially useful for patients who need minor pain relief or treatment for low-grade burns and rashes. 

When dispensing prescription medication, Pharmacists can also offer additional advice and support to patients who have already seen their GP. Pharmacists will ensure patients are taking the right medication for them and ensure patients get the best out of their medications by telling them when and how to take certain prescriptions. 

Some pharmacists will receive specialist training under the Patient Group Directions scheme, meaning they can prescribe prescription-only medicines. This makes it even easier for patients to get help without waiting up to two weeks for a GP appointment for minor illnesses. 

Another specialist medication service that pharmacists can deliver is offering extra advice for patients starting a new medication for certain long-term medical conditions. This is possible under the New Medicine Service (NMS), a free scheme allowing pharmacists to support patients over the first weeks of their new medication. 

When starting new medications, patients will often have questions about how to fit them into their lifestyle, how best to use them, and any side effects they may be experiencing. The NMS allows pharmacists to support patients directly, so they hopefully do not need to go back to see their GP. 

Pharmacists can support patients for free through the NMS scheme who have the following conditions: 

  • Asthma 
  • COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) 
  • Type 2 Diabetes
  • High Blood Pressure 
  • People on new blood-thinning medications

Long-term condition management

As well as medication support, pharmacists can offer advice and help manage long-term conditions and how to practice healthy lifestyle habits. 

They do this by providing tailored advice for patients to manage their medications over long periods of time and offering an alternative to the GP as a resource for medical support when trying to make healthy changes. 

Part of a pharmacists role is to offer advice and help with managing long term conditions such as:

  • Asthma 
  • High Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes 

And with managing lifestyle changes including: 

  • Stopping Smoking 
  • Weight management

Across the UK, there are calls for pharmacists to be used more widely in supporting patient care, such as with dementia patients to help monitor their medications more holistically when being treated for various conditions.

Minor illness and injury support

With GP’s more stretched than ever before, patients are waiting longer for a GP appointment. The role of a pharmacist can take the strain off GP services by helping patients with medications for minor illnesses and injuries. 

Many patients can actually be seen more quickly and effectively by going to a pharmacist than the GP. For conditions such as minor colds, coughs, headaches, and minor injuries, waiting for a GP may only result in being sent to the pharmacy to pick up something that could have been given to them without a prescription, without having to wait to be seen. 

Another benefit of seeing the pharmacist for minor illnesses is that they may have more time and have more specialist qualifications, to talk to patients about the medication options and alternatives than a GP. 

With the average GP appointments time in the UK being 9.2 minutes, including diagnosis and prescription, a pharmacist isn’t always under the same time pressure constraints when talking to patients. Many pharmacies also have more flexible opening times than GP services, giving patients more options to see a medical professional around their working hours. 

Minor injuries and illnesses pharmacists can help with include: 

  • Sore Throat
  • Cold and Flu 
  • Earache 
  • Cystitis 
  • Skin Rashes 
  • Teething 
  • Coughs 
  • Minor Wounds, Cuts, and Bruises 
  • Back Pain 
  • Athlete’s Foot 
  • Acne and Eczema

Pharmacists in the NHS ‘Long-Term Plan’

Pharmacists are highly skilled medical professionals, and their role is key to the NHS. They work in many settings across the NHS, including: 

  • GP’s 
  • Community Pharmacies 
  • NHS 111 
  • Integrated Care Systems 
  • Hospitals 

We have mostly been discussing the role as it functions in community and GP pharmacies as this is where most patients will encounter them. 

Their role in supporting GP’s and primary care services is enhanced, focusing more on integrating pharmacies into GP surgeries. Plans for expansion of these integrations were announced in the NHS ‘Long-term Plan’ in January 2019. 

The plan set out ways for the NHS to improve access to services. Pharmacies being integrated on-site with GP surgeries are hoped to encourage patients to see their pharmacists instead of the GP when possible. This integration makes them more visible as part of the GP surgery and makes referrals to pharmacists from GPs for medications easier for patients.