Are pharmacists really as good as doctors at treating seven key illnesses – and what if they misdiagnose me? As new health service is launched, DR ELLIE CANNON explains when to go to your pharmacy with an illness… and when to visit a GP

Are pharmacists really as good as doctors at treating seven key illnesses – and what if they misdiagnose me? As new health service is launched, DR ELLIE CANNON explains when to go to your pharmacy with an illness… and when to visit a GP

It’s, arguably, the largest shift in healthcare since Covid ushered in a radical – and controversial – new period of distant GP consultations. From at present, excessive road pharmacists will get new powers to dish out pharmaceuticals, make referrals and mainly be the primary port of name for seven frequent sicknesses.

Any more, you don’t must see a physician you probably have signs of sinusitis, a sore throat, earache, an contaminated insect chunk, impetigo, shingles or a urinary tract an infection (UTI).

It’s not that we GPs are being lazy (though there would be the predictable feedback under this text claiming so). And it doesn’t imply you’re not allowed to see a physician.

However these are simple points that you just don’t want a GP or nurse appointment to type out.

It’s a sea change, however I’d such as you to view it as empowering: the extra we study to take care of our personal fundamental well being wants, with some professional assist from a pharmacist, the higher.

Based on the Authorities, greater than 9 in ten pharmacies – whole of 10,265 throughout England – might be providing the service any more

It’s a drum I’ve been banging for a lot of the 2 decades-plus that I’ve spent in medication. The transfer may even, it’s claimed, liberate greater than ten million GP appointments, which suggests we’ll have extra time to see extra sufferers with extra advanced issues.

Regardless of this, as with all shift in the way in which healthcare is delivered, the brand new guidelines may even trigger fear.

And there are different essential developments, equivalent to pharmacists now being permitted to supply ‘emergency’ provides of a variety of medication, you probably have a repeat prescription and run out.

With this in thoughts, I’ve tried to reply the questions I’ve been requested most in regards to the scheme over the previous few weeks.

Q: How can I make sure the brand new system is protected – and isn’t there an opportunity my drawback could possibly be misdiagnosed by a pharmacist?

A: That is most likely the largest concern I’m listening to. Pharmacy First means, any more, sufferers in England will be capable of get evaluation and therapy for seven frequent illnesses.

These are contaminated insect bites and impetigo in everybody however infants beneath 12 months, sore throats in over-fives, earache in kids between one and 17, sinusitis and shingles in over-18s, and easy urinary tract infections in ladies aged between 16 and 65.

These are issues most of us are fairly properly versed in, however for particulars on the signs of every, please see the panel under.

In case you suppose you’ve got certainly one of these seven sicknesses, you’ll be able to merely flip up at a neighborhood pharmacy and ask to be seen.

If the pharmacist can cope with your drawback, you gained’t want a GP appointment or a prescription for any medicines handed out.

As I’ve informed my very own sufferers, this alteration doesn’t fear me within the slightest – it builds on a system that was already in place, wherein sufferers needed to name 111 and be  referred to a pharmacist for therapy.

Pharmacists are specialists in medicines and properly positioned to supply medical recommendation for these uncomplicated issues. However, as well as, very clear care pathways – steering on greatest follow – have been drawn up by the NHS for every of the seven sicknesses.

These have been made with enter from a variety of specialists and have been permitted by the Medical Director at NHS England, Sir Stephen Powis, and Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Chris Whitty.

The pathways set out clear directions for situations when the pharmacist ought to refer on to a physician. In fact, there’s at all times an opportunity of misdiagnosis, regardless of which medical skilled you see, however quite a lot of thought has gone into this, and I imagine it’s very protected.

Q: Are you actually attempting to inform me a pharmacist is nearly as good as a GP at diagnosing and treating these issues?

A: In a phrase, sure. Pharmacists are usually not shopkeepers. Like most GPs, I’m endlessly emphasising how essential it’s for folks to utilise them for medical therapy.

The truth that folks don’t and as an alternative attempt to get GP appointments or worse, flip up at A&E, is massively irritating, because it hinders care of those that actually need it.

In October, NHS knowledge confirmed emergency departments are seeing a rising tide of sufferers turning up with minor issues – greater than 230,000 attendances final 12 months for earache, and virtually 350,000 with sore throats, which is ridiculous.

I hope we are able to get as many of those folks as doable to understand a visit to the pharmacist will get them the speedy care they want.

Q: Will I’ve to face on the counter and inform a pharmacist about my painful and probably embarrassing signs?

A: No. Taking part pharmacies will present non-public, confidential consultations in a separate room. You simply need to go in and say one thing basic like: ‘Can I’ve a session with the pharmacist in non-public,’ or one thing extra particular equivalent to: ‘I believe I’ve sinusitis, can I’ve a session.’

All of the workers working within the pharmacy will know that anybody with the seven situations could be seen in a personal session. So this could spare any embarrassment or uncomfortable conditions.

Q: What if I don’t need to see a pharmacist about my drawback?

A: There’s nothing stopping you making a GP appointment for any certainly one of these issues – though we would properly let you know that you simply needn’t have waited to get the very same therapy.

The fantastic thing about Pharmacy First is you gained’t want an appointment and certain gained’t want to attend lengthy. For one thing like a UTI, which could be very uncomfortable however is very easy to deal with, it is a blessing.

For the previous couple of years many pharmacies have run minor illnesses companies in addition to handled hypertension and different points. Since final 12 months pharmacies have been providing ladies contraception with out a GP.

These schemes have been an unmitigated success.

By ring-fencing seven new situations that may be handled on the excessive road, it could alleviate a number of the stress on GPs and cut back wait instances for sufferers.

Q: What’s going to occur in a session – and if I get provided medication, what’s going to I’ve to pay?

A: Throughout a session, the pharmacist will ask about earlier medical historical past, allergy symptoms, any medicines you’re taking and the signs which are bothering you. They may additionally ask for consent to examine affected person information they’ll entry.

For some situations, the pharmacist might request to carry out an examination, equivalent to utilizing an otoscope, which is a tool that lets us look into the ear canal, if earache is the issue.

They’ll be capable of suggest the most effective plan of action. In the event that they suggest a prescription medication, equivalent to an antibiotic, you gained’t want a prescription – however you can be charged the identical as you’d pay for an NHS prescription, which is £9.65.

In the event that they suggest an over-the-counter medication, you’ll pay for that as regular. They might suggest coming again to the pharmacy for a follow-up appointment and relying on the scenario instruct you to see a physician, name NHS 111 and even go to A&E ought to signs worsen. 

A report of the session might be made and shared along with your GP.

Dr Ellie Cannon is a supporter of the new Pharmacy First scheme... and answers your questions about it

Dr Ellie Cannon is a supporter of the brand new Pharmacy First scheme… and solutions your questions on it 

Q: I perceive there are different adjustments – pharmacists will be capable of give out different medicines too, equivalent to bronchial asthma inhalers, with out a prescription?

A: Form of. Mainly, should you’ve run out of a drugs you commonly take – it could possibly be an bronchial asthma inhaler, an antidepressant, diabetes medication, the listing is in depth – and you’re unable to see a physician to get a prescription earlier than you might want to take your subsequent dose, the pharmacist will be capable of supply an emergency provide.

This service has been round for a couple of years now, and it was introduced in to save lots of folks from turning up at A&E asking for his or her repeat prescriptions. Previous to this week, you needed to name NHS 111 and get referred first, however now you’ll be able to merely flip up on the pharmacy. You may be charged a daily prescription price for any treatment offered.

Q: Can I do that remotely, by cellphone or video name?

A: Some recommendation could be given by cellphone: should you want an emergency provide of some sorts of treatment, for example.

Nevertheless if you need therapy to be offered by the pharmacist for one of many seven situations, you might want to both go into the pharmacy or, if it’s doable, have a video session. They want to have the ability to see you to be able to make a correct evaluation.

Q: I heard some individuals are anxious pharmacists will hand out antibiotics inappropriately. Honest level?

A: There isn’t a cause to suppose this. Alongside the care pathways developed, which stipulate when treatment is required, pharmacists are rigorously skilled in when it’s essential to prescribe antibiotics and when it’s not.

Antibiotic prescriptions are rigorously monitored by the NHS, and if spreadsheets are your factor, these knowledge are publicly accessible through the NHS Enterprise Companies Authority web site.

Q: How do I discover a pharmacy doing all these new issues?

A: Based on the Authorities, greater than 9 in ten pharmacies – whole of 10,265 throughout England – might be providing the service any more, so it ought to be as straightforward as popping into your nearest one.

However should you name NHS 111 or use the service, or name your GP, and it’s suspected you’ve got the signs of one of many seven situations, you’ll be given an inventory of native pharmacies to select from.

It’s essential to notice, Pharmacy First doesn’t embrace GP practice-based pharmacists, who’ve a wider remit to evaluate and prescribe. You’ll nonetheless want an appointment to talk to or see certainly one of them.

Eight in ten folks dwell inside a 20-minute stroll of a excessive road pharmacy and plenty of branches are open at extra handy instances than GP surgical procedures, equivalent to through the evenings.

Q: Will pharmacies simply find yourself being deluged with folks looking for assist, like each different NHS service appears to be?

A: Many people docs have puzzled about this. Pharmacists are skilled to grasp’s diploma degree, which takes 4 years. And one of many issues we might have with that is that there’s a lack of them.

Roughly 5,000 pharmacists have left group pharmacy to work in GP surgical procedures within the final couple of years to be part of the widening healthcare workforce, since there’s a scarcity of GPs.

Trade our bodies have urged this will likely imply there aren’t sufficient pharmacists in precise pharmacies to workers the service. I suppose we’ll need to see the way it pans out.

For some conditions, the pharmacist may request to perform an examination, such as using an otoscope, which is a device that lets us look into the ear canal, if earache is the problem

For some situations, the pharmacist might request to carry out an examination, equivalent to utilizing an otoscope, which is a tool that lets us look into the ear canal, if earache is the issue



It is a frequent drawback – particularly in younger kids. Earache or ear ache can have an effect on one or each ears, and whereas it may be uncomfortable and even distressing for children, it’s often not severe.

Most earache could be handled at residence with easy painkillers (under-16s shouldn’t take aspirin, because it causes uncommon negative effects in youthful kids). But when signs don’t enhance inside a few days, then looking for recommendation from a pharmacist – quite than going to your GP as a primary port of name – could possibly be a good suggestion.

Beneath Pharmacy First, kids aged between one and 17 can go to their pharmacist to have their ears examined if they’ve been affected by earache.

Chief government of the Affiliation of Unbiased A number of Pharmacies Leyla Hannbeck says: ‘The pharmacist will look into your ear with an otoscope, which is a software with a light-weight on the tip that helps healthcare professionals see contained in the ear canal.

‘If it’s one thing they really feel they’ll deal with equivalent to a build-up of earwax, they may cope with it within the pharmacy. If it’s one thing that requires a physician, equivalent to a burst eardrum, they’ll refer you.’

When analyzing your ears, the pharmacist will comply with a set of directions to search out out essentially the most appropriate therapy, which might embrace antibiotics if a baby has been unwell for greater than three days.


Beneath the brand new service, folks aged 12 and over can go to their pharmacist to work out whether or not their stuffy nostril has become sinusitis.

The situation causes the sinuses – that are cavities within the face – to grow to be infected, which may result in painful complications and a blocked feeling within the nostril.

Sinusitis can typically clear up by itself, however it’s value paying a go to to the pharmacist if signs haven’t bought any higher after ten days.

Ms Hannbeck explains: ‘The pharmacist will ask questions on how lengthy you’ve had a headache for or whether or not you’ve bought a foul style at the back of your throat. Based mostly on the solutions to these questions, they may be capable of determine what therapy is greatest.’

Pharmacists might be on the look out for indicators of a extra severe an infection that may’t be managed with relaxation and painkillers, equivalent to a fever or a pointy ache within the jaw or tooth.

In these instances, the pharmacist might supply a powerful steroid nasal spray, or antibiotics if these don’t work.


Sore throats usually get higher inside per week with out a lot intervention – NHS recommendation is to gargle heat, salty water (half a teaspoon in a glass is sufficient), keep hydrated and relaxation.

If signs don’t enhance on this time, or worsen, then a pharmacist might carry out an examination and suggest a variety of over-the-counter medicines together with paracetamol or iburpofen, lozenges containing native anaesthetic, antiseptic or anti-inflammatory medication.

Ms Hannbeck says: ‘There are a great deal of issues for a sore throat your pharmacist can provide you over-the-counter.’

In severe instances, the place sore throat is accompanied by a fever, extraordinarily swollen or clearly contaminated (white) tonsils, sufferers could also be provided antibiotics, though usually these aren’t wanted and solely assist if there’s a bacterial an infection.

If all of those approaches don’t ease signs, a referral to a GP might be made. The conventional guidelines apply: if there’s issue respiration, swallowing (or in depth drooling in kids, which is an indication of this), wheezing or making a high-pitched noise when respiration (known as stridor), or if signs proceed to deteriorate, then search emergency medical assist.

However normally, sore throats will go away by themselves and could be managed with medicines you’ll be able to simply purchase out of your pharmacy.


Shingles is an an infection that causes a painful, blistered rash – often on the chest or abdomen.

The primary indicators are sometimes a tingling or painful sensation, with a rash often showing two to a few days afterwards. The blotchy rash seems on one facet of the physique solely – and if it’s on either side, or throughout, it’s unlikely to be shingles.

It could have an effect on folks of any age, nevertheless it’s extra frequent – and extra extreme – in over-70s.

Now, should you suppose you’ve got the an infection, you’ll be able to go to the pharmacist (you’ll be able to’t unfold it to others simply). The pharmacist will carry out an examination to substantiate a analysis, and would possibly supply antiviral treatment to assist clear up the situation.

These medication are handiest if began inside three days of the rash first showing.

‘We may be capable of offer you a cream to assist the itchiness,’ Ms Hannbeck provides. Paracetamol and funky compresses (a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel) can even ease the discomfort.

It takes a couple of month for the shingles rash to heal, and the ache can last more.

If signs go quickly downhill or don’t enhance after seven days of therapy, the pharmacist will refer you to a GP.


Impetigo is a pores and skin an infection that’s extremely infectious, however not often severe. It causes purple pores and skin sores that burst and crust over. Anybody can get it, nevertheless it’s extra frequent in younger kids.

The sores – which may look a bit like cornflakes caught to the pores and skin – are sometimes on the face however can even happen on the limbs. They are often itchy and generally painful.

In case you or your baby may need impetigo, it’s advisable to hunt medical recommendation which may now be from a pharmacist, who will present the identical therapy as a GP.

Ms Hannbeck explains: ‘The pharmacist will carry out an examination to evaluate the severity of the situation and if wanted, supply antibiotic cream or tablets.’

One other therapy is hydrogen peroxide cream, which is an antiseptic that works in addition to antibiotic lotions in much less extreme instances.

If the pharmacist suspects that the an infection has unfold deeper into the physique, a referral to A&E is perhaps made. It’s essential to avoid college or work to keep away from spreading the an infection, hold sores and blisters clear and dry and canopy them with unfastened clothes or gauze.

If the impetigo retains coming again, an appointment with the GP is perhaps advisable.


Insect bites or stings are usually not often severe and can get higher in a couple of days. Nevertheless, in some instances, bites can grow to be contaminated or set off a severe allergic response.

It’s regular for insect bites to be painful and for a small, purple lump to look on the pores and skin.

Sufferers are suggested to clean the pores and skin with cleaning soap and water, and informed to not itch the realm, as this could enhance the danger of an an infection.

Beforehand, pharmacists have been allowed to supply over-the-counter antihistamine medication in addition to low-strength topical steroid lotions each to scale back itchiness.

Beneath the brand new system, pharmacists can now prescribe antibiotics in the event that they imagine the chunk has grow to be contaminated.

A pharmacist will look to see if the chunk has grow to be scorching to the contact, painful, tender or stuffed with pus, which might counsel an an infection.

‘We might additionally need to examine whether or not the affected person bought the chunk abroad,’ says Ms Hannbeck.

‘If we suspect the chunk could possibly be a tropical illness, like malaria, we might refer the affected person to a specialist.

‘Nevertheless, if that isn’t a danger, and the chunk seems contaminated, we’d now be capable of supply the affected person an antibiotic to assist clear the an infection.’


Urinary tract infections (UTIs) are bugs which may have an effect on the urinary tract, bladder, urethra or kidneys.

The uncomfortable (however not often severe) situation primarily impacts ladies, and might trigger a burning sensation when peeing, the feeling of needing to pee extra typically than normal, and generally a excessive temperature.

For older, frail folks, a UTI generally is a severe well being drawback as a result of it could set off delirium: reminiscence loss and sudden adjustments in behaviour.

Pharmacists can now supply a brief course of antibiotics to ladies between the ages of 16 and 64 who’re experiencing UTI signs that considerably affect their each day life.

‘We’d first take the affected person into a personal room and examine their signs so we all know we aren’t coping with an unrelated situation, like a sexually transmitted illness, which they’d must see a GP about,’ says Ms Hannbeck.

‘Nevertheless, UTIs are so frequent that they’re fairly simple to diagnose, that means most pharmacists can confidentially make a name there after which whether or not to prescribe antibiotics or not.’

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