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Feeling under the weather? Make your community pharmacy your first port of call this winter – Dr Bruce Warner

Community pharmacists are able to give you advice about how to use your medicines in a way that fits in with your lifestyle and helps you get the best possible benefit from taking your medicines. They can also highlight any possible side effects and talk to you about any concerns you may have about your medicines. All medicines can be dangerous and so above all your pharmacist is your ‘advocate’ and there to make sure taking your medicines is as safe as possible.

Pharmacists are qualified to provide expert advice to help people manage their long-term conditions, or for common ailments such as a bad cough, wheezing, a cold or sore throat.

Rest assured your pharmacist will tell you if something needs more urgent medical attention from your GP. They can also provide you with information about leading a healthier lifestyle, such as healthy eating or stopping smoking.

Pharmacies are a particularly convenient and accessible healthcare service as it’s possible to walk into any pharmacy and speak to the pharmacist without an appointment. Many pharmacies have longer opening hours than the average GP practice, and the vast majority have a private consultation area specifically for confidential or sensitive discussions.

I spent many years working in community pharmacies, so I really appreciate what a fantastic health resource they are. Community pharmacies do far more than just dispense medicine, and they feature strongly in our plans for the future of the urgent and emergency care system in England.

Pharmacists can provide medicines advice and support for minor ailments, advise you about how to get the greatest possible benefit from your medicines and tell you if something needs more urgent medical attention from your GP, or even your local hospital.

Every winter, doctors and nurses see a big increase in the number of emergency admissions to hospital over the colder months. Those with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis are particularly vulnerable, and for frailer and older people, even the common cold can become more serious.

A recent study by Pharmacy Research UK, Community Pharmacy Management of Minor Illness, estimates that three per cent of all A&E consultations and 5.5 per cent of GP consultations for common ailments such as coughs and sore throats could be managed in community pharmacies, saving the NHS £1.1 billion a year.

However, not everyone understands what their local pharmacist can do for them, and what services they offer.

About your pharmacist:

There are some common misconceptions about the role of a pharmacist, and the level of training they receive. Let me be clear; your local pharmacist is not just a shop assistant in a white coat!

Pharmacists are highly trained and trusted health professionals whose remit goes far beyond simply dispensing medicines.

As students they undertake a four year Master’s degree course in Pharmacy that teaches them about the origin and chemistry of drugs, the preparation and formulation of medicines and the actions and uses of medicines.

They then have a year ‘in practice’ during which they work in a pharmacy supervised by an experienced pharmacist, before taking a professional examination. Upon passing this examination they can then apply to register with the General Pharmaceutical Council, and call themselves a pharmacist. However, that isn’t the end of their training. Throughout their career, pharmacists continue to keep their knowledge up to date by undertaking continuing professional development, and many take further formal qualifications.

All of this means pharmacists are ideally placed to provide advice on a wide range of health issues.

What can your pharmacy offer you?

We all know that you can go to your local pharmacy to pick up a prescription, but there is far more on offer.

Community pharmacists are also able to give you advice about how to use your medicines in a way that fits in with your lifestyle and helps you get the best possible benefit from taking your medicines. They can also highlight any possible

Many pharmacies supply a range of additional services – it depends on NHS priorities in that local area. For more information about pharmacy services, visit the NHS Choices website.


Image of Dr Bruce Warner, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, NHS EnglandDr Bruce Warner is Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England, where he leads on medicines optimisation, aimed at improving quality, outcomes and value for patients and the public from their medicines. He also works on the Community Pharmacy strategic framework including the Community Pharmacy Call to Action and chairs the NHS England Controlled Drugs National Forum.

Bruce is seconded from his substantive post as Deputy Director of Patient Safety at NHS England. He is a nationally renowned credible expert in medication error who has presented nationally and internationally on the subject, published research papers and raised the profile of medication safety.

Prior to joining NHS England Bruce was an Associate Director of Patient Safety at the National Patient Safety Agency, the special health authority responsible for improving patient safety in England and Wales.

Bruce has worked for the majority of his career within the fields of pharmacy, medication and patient safety.  For the first 18 years he built a solid pharmaceutical career gaining substantial expertise in community pharmacy at trust and practice level.  In 2002 he moved to an academic career, and developed and ran a new MSc. distance learning course in Primary Care Pharmacy while teaching on the MSc Clinical Diploma, the BTech for Pharmacy Technicians and pharmacist and nurse supplementary prescribing courses.

From 2006 he has focused on medication and patient safety at a national and international level within the National Patient Safety Agency.  Bruce’s expertise is backed up by his academic qualifications.  He has an MSc in Community Pharmacy and a Doctor of Pharmacy degree.

At NHS England he is responsible for strategic and operational management of the Patient Safety domain, particularly focused on delivering advice and guidance and large-scale sustainable change in patient safety improvement within the NHS in England.

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