Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Using chemists and pharmacies

Here, people talk about their experiences of using pharmacy services, either at the local chemist or in supermarket pharmacies, including:

•    what can a pharmacist or chemist help with?
•    what pharmacists do
•    getting to the chemist
•    paying for prescriptions

What can a pharmacist or chemist help with?
Pharmacists can recognise many common health problems and minor injuries, including aches and pains, coughs and colds, skin rashes, thrush, cystitis, mild eczema, and athlete’s foot. They can give advice and, if appropriate, medicines that will help clear up the problem. These medicines won’t be on prescription – they’ll be ‘over-the-counter’ treatments so have to be paid for. Pharmacists can also sell pregnancy tests and emergency contraception (the morning after pill).
Pharmacists or chemists can also help with: 
•    hay fever and allergies 
•    minor cuts and bruises
•    indigestion, constipation and diarrhoea 
•    haemorrhoids (piles) and threadworms 
•    warts and verrucas, mouth ulcers and cold sores
Pharmacists and their teams may also offer lifestyle advice on healthy eating, physical activity, losing weight, sexual health, alcohol support services, and stopping smoking. Some pharmacies also have blood pressure measurement and cholesterol management services. 

What pharmacists do
Pharmacists are experts in medicines and how they work. There’s no need to make an appointment to see a pharmacist, and people can talk to them confidentially (privately). Auberon had always found it possible to speak confidentially to the pharmacist, and pointed out that many now have a private consulting room. But, as a young carer, Ambeya sometimes felt that her privacy was not respected by people at the counter in her local chemist.
Pharmacists are responsible for advising people about medicines, including how to take them, possible side effects, and answering questions. As well as preparing and giving out medicines prescribed by the doctor, some pharmacists can also prescribe selected medicines. 

Many GP surgeries now have online services. Paula described how her GP emailed prescriptions to the chemist and Emma explained how she could order repeat prescriptions. People taking regular medicines still need to have reviews every so often with their GP.
Ambeya had never looked at her local surgery website or heard about ordering prescriptions online, but felt that this is a good idea. Isaac had never ordered repeat prescriptions online either, though took tablets every summer for hay fever. His mum usually phoned the local surgery and asked for a repeat prescription. Since he turned 18, he’s had to confirm that it’s okay for his mum to call on his behalf.
Getting to the chemist
Most pharmacists work in community pharmacies (high street chemists or supermarkets) and hospitals.
Kyle’s local chemist was also easy walking distance from the GP surgery. He recalled how, at a younger age, he would go there with a parent and buy sugar-free sweets and get passport photos from the photo booth. Aphra’s village pharmacy also functioned as a community shop and ‘stock a few things that people can run out of...because we don’t have a village shop.’ This included bread, milk and cereals. 

Paying for prescriptions
In Northern Ireland and Scotland all prescriptions are free. In Wales people are entitled to free prescriptions if they’re registered with a Welsh or English GP and get their prescription from a Welsh pharmacy.

NHS prescriptions in England are normally charged per item. But many people are exempt from (free from) paying. This includes people who are:
• under 16 
• 16 to 18 years and in full-time education
• over 19 and in full time education on a low income 
• pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months and have a valid exemption certificate
• living with a specified long-term condition and have a valid exemption certificate
• living with a continuing physical disability which means they can’t go out without help from another person and have a valid exemption certificate
• having treatment for cancer
Some people living with long-term conditions like type 1 diabetes get their medicines from the chemist for free. Emma, for example, orders her repeat prescriptions online and collects them when they’re ready. It’s ‘great’ to order online, though mistakes had been made a few times. The pharmacist had to contact the surgery to get a new prescription for her:
Aphra, who lives in a village, felt that it was helpful to have a good relationship with the pharmacist as well as the GP. When she ran out of antidepressants, her pharmacist gave her some more without the prescription being signed – her GP phoned and told the pharmacist what had happened.
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Aphra said that the village pharmacist also did consultations at the chemist when the GP surgery was closed over the weekend. If someone needed to go to hospital, the pharmacist would tell them. It’s always the same team and ‘they’re really good at listening to people’.

Emma found that some chemists were better than others. It was helpful when the staff told her when the medicines would be ready to collect and about holiday times when they’d be unavailable. Siobhan found it helpful when she got a text from the chemist telling her that her medication was ready to pick up.
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Not everyone got to know their pharmacist personally as they might do in a small village, and sometimes people would have preferred more anonymity. When Ambeya was younger, she often had to pick up medicine from the chemist for her mum, as her carer. She didn’t like being asked what the medication was for and found it awkward when the pharmacist asked. In ‘an area where everyone knows everyone’, she’d prefer it if she could leave the prescription with the pharmacist and collect it in a sealed bag later, without the sales staff knowing what was in it.
Ish usually got his prescriptions from a high street chemist, where he sees the same pharmacist. He likes going to the same chemist every time. Ish liked the staff at the chemist but found it annoying that he had to keep trying different treatments for acne and pay for these every few months even though they didn’t work.

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