Got a minor illness and not sure whether to visit your GP? Try your pharmacy first!

People in Devon are being encouraged to try their pharmacy first if they pick up a cough or cold and aren’t sure whether to visit their doctor.

GP practices and hospital emergency departments are often under even more pressure at this time of year and pharmacies can provide a fast route to medication for minor ailments like aches and pains, sore throat, coughs, colds, flu-like symptoms, runny noses, earache and skin rashes.

Pharmacies are open until late as well as weekends and you don’t need an appointment. Most pharmacies also have a confidential consulting area for anyone who wants to talk in private.

Tom Kallis, a community pharmacist in Devon and project lead for Devon Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said: “If you’ve got a minor ailment and you’re not sure whether you need to see your GP, check with your pharmacy first.

“At a time of year when coughs, colds and sore throats are everywhere, pharmacies can help people with the symptoms or refer them as appropriate.

“Get your medical cabinet stocked up for winter and make sure you get your flu vaccination. Anyone eligible for a free flu vaccination can get it from their GP or pharmacy and anyone who has the vaccination isn’t just helping themselves – they are protecting those around them.

“If you have repeat medicines, order them early to make sure you don’t run out over Christmas.”

Pharmacists can also access basic information about a patient’s health and medication if the patient gives them permission to view their Summary Health Record.

If the patient gives their consent, the majority of pharmacists can use a smart card to view their repeat medication or acute medication issued in the last 12 months on a computer – which is especially helpful if a patient runs out of medication.

To find your nearest pharmacy and check its opening times, go online at www.nhs.uk or call the free helpline NHS 111.

And remember, under Devon’s Pharmacy First scheme, trained pharmacists in participating branches can give out medication which normally has to be prescribed by a GP for the following conditions:

• Urinary Tract Infections (UTI) for women aged 18-64
• Impetigo
• Nappy rash
• Conjunctivitis for one-year-olds

The scheme aims to make the most of pharmacists’ expertise and give local people a fast alternative to visiting the doctor, especially during the busy winter period.

The service is generally for uncomplicated cases and the pharmacist will go through a series of questions with the patient in private. If the pharmacist finds ‘red flag’ symptoms they will refer the patient to their GP to get it checked out.

Only specially trained pharmacists offer the Pharmacy First service – if you want to check it’s available at your local community pharmacist, phone ahead and ask about Pharmacy First services.

Prescription charges, with normal exemptions, are payable.