Patients advised to visit pharmacy this winter

Cormac Tobin, Managing Director of LloydsPharmacy, part of Celesio UK

Sir Bruce Keogh, Medical Director of the NHS, has urged people to use pharmacies more during the winter months due to recent reports of GPs being under so much strain. His announcement was supported by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt who admitted pressures on GP surgeries were ‘higher than ever’.

At LloydsPharmacy we welcome this announcement as we believe community pharmacy is ideally placed to alleviate such pressures by advising and treating patients with minor injuries and common ailments. Pharmacy teams are made up of passionate and experienced people who are able to offer more than just the dispensing of medicines; pharmacists are highly qualified and capable of advising patients on a wide range of conditions, including many winter health issues.

However, some media reports seem to have been confused by Sir Bruce Keogh’s announcement and have interpreted the advice for people to visit pharmacy as an attempt ‘to ration healthcare’.

The fact of the matter is we, as a society, need to be smarter about how we use our healthcare services and ensure we seek the right support for the right ailment. The Treat Yourself Better with Pharmacist Advice campaign found that six million UK adults visit their GP, and over two million would visit A&E as a first port of call for common winter ailments[1] such as colds and flu. Only one in five (21%) adults makes use of their local pharmacy for winter ailments[2].

Seeing a pharmacist, rather than a GP, for advice about a cough, cold or minor ailment such as sprains, back pain, allergies and hayfever, frees up the GP’s time to see someone with a medical concern that better suits their expertise.

The GP has historically been the first port of call for all non-emergency health queries so to factor in the pharmacist requires a major change in behaviour. It’s also understandable that as we make this change there will be some confusion as to which ailments a pharmacist can support. A national minor ailments service for pharmacy would provide clarity and ensure that healthcare remained free at the point of need. This is why we at LloydsPharmacy are calling for the NHS to commission community pharmacy in England to provide a minor ailment service, as already provided by our colleagues in Scotland.

Recent research undertaken by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society revealed that treatment results for common ailments such as coughs and sore throats were equally good regardless of whether patients were treated at a pharmacy, A&E or GP practice[3] highlighting community pharmacy as a solution to the increasing burden on the NHS. The research also found that common ailments cost the NHS an extra £1.1 billion a year.

Community pharmacy can have an extremely positive impact on the health of the communities it serves due to the engagement pharmacy teams have with their patients every day. Pharmacists will offer advice on conditions and medications, and if appropriate, they will refer a patient to their GP if they feel it necessary. Pharmacies often offer extended opening hours with no appointment necessary and are positioned conveniently within communities, making them an ideal source to treat minor injuries and common ailments.


[1] Winter ailments include cough, cold, flu, sore throat and nasal congestion.
[2] Research carried out on behalf of the Treat Yourself Better with Pharmacist Advice campaign by Redshift Research. Sample size: 2,000 UK adults, July 2014.