The times they are a'changing, and the NHS is no exception. When I was eight years old I decided I wanted to be a GP, and I've never regretted my decision. But in those days, the 'primary healthcare team' hadn't even been invented. There was a strict hierarchy to medical care. Health promotion and disease prevention weren't part of our vocabulary at all. If you were ill, you saw the GP. Most medical problems were treated with tablets which you got on prescription (unless your GP felt you needed a hospital specialist opinion). GPs had receptionists, but many didn't have practice nurses. Healthcare assistants hadn't been invented and pharmacists just dispensed the medicines we clever doctors wrote prescriptions for.
Today the focus is very different. We're living much longer, largely courtesy of preventative health treatments. But medicines are no longer the domain of doctors alone. Today the pharmacist is a highly trained professional, very much part of the healthcare team.
Does it 'count' if I didn't have a prescription?
The last few years have seen an explosion in supplements and herbal remedies. Some you can buy without advice from a GP or pharmacist. But beware - all too many of my patients imagine that 'natural' remedies don't count when they're asked about medications. In fact, they can affect your prescription medicines dramatically, with dangerous results. Your pharmacist can help you navigate the maze - but only if they know exactly what you're taking.
For instance, did you know that St John's wort, a herbal remedy widely used for mild depression, can interact with some heart and epilepsy medications? Or that ginseng can interact with the blood-thinning medicine, warfarin? Your pharmacist does!
Cutting through confusion
Medicines can be confusing - with or without food, when do they work best? Your pharmacist can offer advice on timings, side effects and interactions. They can give you a dosette box with days and times to help you organise your tablets and arrange to collect regular prescriptions from your doctor.
When saving money is safe - and when it isn't
When medicines are first invented, they're given a brand name by the drug company who developed them. The manufacturer takes out a patent for exclusive rights, normally for 20 years. After that other companies can produce their own cheaper, non-branded versions, usually sold under the name of the active ingredient. All medicines sold in UK pharmacies have to be manufactured by law to the same standard. Your pharmacist can advise you on non-branded alternatives to the remedies you buy, which can save you money without compromising safety or effectiveness.
At the other end of the spectrum, in today's world, most people have access to the internet. It can be tempting to buy cheap medicines online - but in a recent survey, half of medicines sold online from sites with no physical address were counterfeit. It's your health - don't risk it.
Travel medicines and so much more
If you're going anywhere outside Western Europe or the USA, it's essential to see your practice nurse to check if you need travel immunisations. Don't forget to make an appointment at least six and ideally eight weeks before you travel, since many immunisations take this long to have full effect. But pharmacists can offer advice and remedies to take with you just in case - many of which you can't get on prescription
Why go to the pharmacist?
If in doubt about a medical ailment, your pharmacist is a fantastic resource. They can advise if you need further examination or tests from a GP, and give you peace of mind if you don't. They can advise on medicines available without prescription, and how they might interact with tablets you are taking. And all without an appointment!
Is medicine from the pharmacist as good? Oh, yes!
Thirty years ago, every effective medicine came on prescription. Today, there are three categories - 'POM' (prescription only medicine); 'P' (pharmacy medicines, available to buy but only after an assessment from your pharmacist) and 'OTC' (over-the-counter, to pick up with the rest of your shopping). 'P' medicines used to be available only on prescription - but with the training your pharmacist has now, they can recommend and sell you really effective treatments for minor ailments, from hay fever to conjunctivitis.
With thanks to 'My Weekly' magazine who originally published this article.
Disclaimer: This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. EMIS has used all reasonable care in compiling the information but make no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details see our conditions.