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You are here > Home > Treatments and Therapies Used in Health Care > A Guide to Pharmacists and Chemists

A Guide to Pharmacists and Chemists

Pharmacists (sometimes called chemists) are experts in medicines and how they work.
They dispense prescriptions from doctors and play a vital role in providing quality healthcare
to patients at pharmacies.

Services from chemists
Types of chemist
Advice from pharmacists
Pharmacy out of hours service
Speak to pharmacist
Pharmacists code of ethics
How to make a complaint about a pharmacy
The Electronic Prescription Service
How to get your oxygen supply
Training to be a pharmacist

Services from chemists

Pharmacists are experts in medicines and how they work. They play a key role in providing quality healthcare to patients. Working in the community, primary care and hospitals, pharmacists use their clinical expertise together with their practical knowledge to ensure the safe supply and use of medicines by patients and members of the public.

The services that may be available from your Pharmacy are:

  • Emergency contraception
  • Truss fittings
  • Incontinence supplies
  • Needle exchange
  • Pregnancy testing
  • Oxygen

They dispense your prescriptions, provide a range of services related to specific health related issues and can advise on minor ailments.

Minor ailments include:

  • Bugs and viruses
  • Minor injuries
  • Tummy troubles
  • Women's health
  • Skin conditions
  • Allergies
  • Aches and pains
  • Children's problems

A pharmacist also has to be registered with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain and have worked for at least a year under the supervision of an experienced and qualified pharmacist, either in a hospital or community pharmacy (local chemist's shop).



Types of chemists

Pharmacists normally work in one of two areas, the hospital pharmacy and the community pharmacy. The community pharmacy is the most common type and involves preparation and dispensing of medicines on prescription to the general public. Non-prescription medicines may also be available.

The community pharmacist will be able to give advice to customers on how to use prescribed medicines and will highlight when certain medicines should not be used in conjunction with alcohol or other types of medication.

The hospital pharmacist is part of a hospital team, providing, preparing and dispensing medicines normally to patients who are or have been treated in the hospital.

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Advice from pharmacists

Pharmacists are experts on medicines and how they work. They can also offer advice on common complaints such as coughs, colds, aches and pains and other health issues, such as healthy eating and giving up smoking.

They can help you decide whether you need to see a doctor. You can talk to your pharmacists in confidence - even about the most personal symptoms and you don't need to make an appointment.


Pharmacy out of hours service

Community pharmacies already play their part in the current provision of out-of-hours (OOH) pharmaceutical services through extended opening hours, rota services and on-call services. However, now there are opportunities for community pharmacists to set up OOH pharmaceutical services, such as minor ailment schemes which support the provision of OOH services by primary care trusts (PCT) or organised OOH providers.

OOH medicines supply should still preferably be made via community pharmacies. However in many areas the OOH provider will need to make provision for supply outside the times when pharmacies are open in the locality.

Please note that if a prescription is obtained via the OOH service, then prescription charges are still applicable unless the patient is exempt, and the payment method may differ from one provider to another.


Speak to a pharmacist

Normally an appointment would not be required. It is possible to walk into any community pharmacy and ask to speak with the pharmacist. They may be able to spend some time with you.

However, this may not always be possible, especially during busy periods when the pharmacist may ask you to come back later during a quieter period. Some pharmacists have quiet areas you can use in order to provide some privacy.


Pharmacists a code of ethics

The General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC) is the regulator for pharmacists, pharmacy technicians and pharmacy premises in Great Britain.. The code highlights fundamental duties of all pharmacists and a number of principles on which the code is based.
The code highlights the pharmacists primary concern should be the welfare of their patients in addition to acting in an appropriate and professional manner at all times. As with many other health professions, the pharmacist must respect the confidentiality of any information in the course of professional practice, never disclosing information to others without the patient's consent.

If a pharmacist breaches the code of ethics, they could have their name removed from the society's register and subsequently be unable to practice.



How to make a complaint about a pharmacy

Any complaint regarding a pharmacist or the owner of a pharmacy should be made in writing to the http://www.pharmacyregulation.org/aboutus/complaintaboutthegphc/index.aspx.

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The Electronic Prescription Service

The Electronic Transmission of Prescriptions (ETP) programme is responsible for creating and implementing the Electronic Prescription Service and, over time, integrating it with the NHS Care Records Service. The ETP programme is part of the National Programme for IT, which is being delivered by NHS Connecting for Health.

It will enable electronic prescriptions to be generated, transmitted and received so that pharmacists and other dispensers can dispense against them. In many, and eventually most cases, electronic prescriptions will replace paper ones.

With around 1.3 million prescriptions now being issued every working day in England, and this figure expected to rise by 5% each year, we need to change from a paper-based system to an electronic one which is more efficient, consistently accurate and able to cope with expected further increases in the number of prescriptions. In particular, about 70% of prescriptions are now repeat prescriptions and the new service has been designed to streamline the current time-consuming system used for dealing with them.

Over time, the ETP will bring a range of benefits to patients, GPs and other staff. The extent of these will depend upon individual circumstances but, for example, there will be a reduced requirement for patients to visit their GP surgery just to collect a prescription, saving time for both patients and GP surgery staff. Also, accuracy and safety will be improved because prescription information will not need to be typed in by both the GP and again by the pharmacist and prescriptions will be complete with full details of the medicines being prescribed.

For many pharmacists, the need to physically collect patients' prescriptions from surgeries will become obsolete. Further time will also be released in the pharmacy as prescription details will no longer need to be keyed in and it will become easier to manage workflow and stock control.

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How to get your oxygen supply

Since 1 Febuary 2006, home oxygen is provided directly by specialist oxygen supply companies. Pharmacies do NOT provide oxygen any more. People will still receive their oxygen cylinders or concentrators as before. The supplier depends on where you live.

The supplier is Air Products, Tel: 24/7 Freephone Helpline 0800 37 35 80 for people living in:

  • Avon
  • Birmingham
  • Black Country
  • Cheshire
  • Cumbria
  • Dorset
  • Gloucestershire
  • Greater Manchester
  • Lancashire
  • Leicestershire
  • London North
  • Merseyside
  • North Lincolnshire
  • Northants
  • Rutland Trent
  • Shropshire
  • Somerset
  • South West Peninsula
  • Staffordshire
  • Wales
  • West Midlands South
  • Wiltshire
  • Yorkshire,

The supplier is Allied Oxycare / Medigas, Tel: 24/7 Freephone Helpline 0500 82 37 73 for people living in:

  • Hampshire
  • Isle of Wight
  • Kent
  • Medway
  • South East London
  • South West London
  • Surrey
  • Sussex
  • Thames Valley

The supplier is BOC, tel: 24/7 Freephone Helpline 0800 13 66 03 for people living in:

  • Bedfordshire
  • Cambridgeshire
  • Essex
  • Herts
  • Norfolk
  • Suffolk

The supplier is Linde Gas, Tel: 24/7 Freephone Helpline 0808 202 09 99 for people living in:

  • County Durham
  • Northumberland
  • Tees Valley
  • Tyne & Wear

People with any other questions, can call the British Lung Foundation helpline on 03000 030 555

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Training to be a pharmacist

To achieve qualification as a pharmacist in Great Britain you will need:

  • A-level chemistry plus other A-/AS-levels such as biology and mathematics
  • A four-year Master of Pharmacy degree from a UK school of pharmacy
  • One year's practical training in a pharmacy after completing the degree ("preregistration training")
  • To pass an examination at the end of your year of preregistration training in order to register with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society

Further information on courses and training recognised by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain can be found on the Society's website. Additional information is also available on Careers in the Pharmaceutical Industry website

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