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JACKIE AGNEW: Health matters - did you know how much pharmacists can help you, including prescribing some medications?

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Jackie Agnew.
Jackie Agnew.

We’ve all popped into the pharmacy for painkillers or to pick up a prescription. But did you know that pharmacists can actually prescribe some medicines as well?

And if you need contraception, support to stop smoking, or advice on a minor ailment, you can go straight to your pharmacist for help.

Pharmacy First Scotland is a service that people living in Scotland and registered (or in some cases temporarily registered) with a Scottish GP practice can use for minor illnesses. This includes residents in care homes and care settings, those experiencing homelessness, and gypsy travellers.

To use this service is simple. When you have a minor illness or clinical condition, instead of going to your GP as your first port of call, all you need to do is pop into any of your community pharmacies. An appointment with a pharmacist works similarly to how it would in your GP practice. The pharmacist will ask you about your symptoms, give advice on any conditions, and prescribe any medications if necessary.

Most pharmacies also have an area or room that you can ask to use so you have the same privacy you would have in your doctor’s office. If you regularly see the same pharmacist they will also keep a confidential patient medication record (PMR) to help manage your conditions effectively if they require future treatment.

So, what services are available through your pharmacies and who are they available to?

There are many common conditions that pharmacies can advise, treat or make an onwards referral for, such as acne, constipation, stomach upsets, hay fever, thrush, coughs, colds, eye infections, eczema and allergies.

While it is always advisable to plan ahead and make sure you have enough of your regular medication, if you require an urgent supply of medication but are unable to get a GP appointment in time then your pharmacist can supply the medication at no charge. They can even substitute the product brand, dosage, or strength of the medication if necessary. People often forget that pharmacists are experts in medicines.

Some pharmacists, depending on their qualifications, can prescribe a wider range of medicines that would normally only be available from your GP practice.

All female patients aged between 16 and 65 can be treated for urinary tract infections (UTIs), and females aged 13 and over can access emergency hormonal contraception (EHC) at their pharmacies. A three-month oral contraceptive pill is available to allow time to arrange a longer-term contraceptive provision.

Not many people know that conditions like impetigo, shingles and soft tissue infections like boils and infected bites can also be treated. There is no need to worry about the quality of treatment when visiting your pharmacist. They provide the same level of care and attention to detail as a GP, and if your pharmacist feels that your condition is too severe or needs further investigation or more specialist care, then they will not hesitate in referring you to another healthcare professional to provide you with the care that is best suited to you.

All patients diagnosed with celiac with a GP referral form can access a gluten free service. There is also a stop smoking nicotine replacement service for over-12s, and over-18s can access varenicline tablets.

If you are unsure on which services are available or what treatments you are eligible for, you can always speak to your community pharmacy team for further information.

At NHS Highland, we are always looking for ways to help improve the healthcare provided to the public, and to make sure you can see someone who can help you as quickly and easily as possible. Choosing to see your pharmacist first could reduce the waiting time for an appointment, meaning you are seen quicker and your health worries can be put to rest. So, next time you have a health niggle, think Pharmacy First!

n Jackie Agnew is NHS Highland’s head of community pharmacy services.

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