From expert advice on weight loss to support with stopping smoking, your local pharmacy boasts a wealth of services to help tackle every day health issues. Reporter JANE PICKEN finds out more about the changing role of the pharmacist.
IF YOU go down to your local pharmacy today you’ll be in for a big surprise.
Along with the usual drug dispensing service and shelves stacked with health products and cosmetics, pharmacies are branching out to give their customers a helping hand with a range of ailments.
Now you can visit your local pharmacist for guidance, product advice and support with stopping smoking, losing weight and maintaining a healthy diet or coping with a cold, sore throat or nasty dose of the flu.
Pharmacists across the North East will also dispense the morning after pill – otherwise known as emergency contraception – to worried women and monitor blood pressure.
Primary care trusts in the region are thrilled with the new services, especially as they can be the first port of call for patients with minor ailments, saving times for practice nurses or GPs.
Dr Mike Guy, medical director for Newcastle and North Tyneside Primary Care Trusts, and Northumberland Care Trust, believes pharmacists have an important role to play in helping people get easy access to medical advice and health services.
“Community pharmacists are available most of the time as many have long opening hours and are open over bank holidays,” he said.
“They are experts in the use of medicines and are happy to give advice on common illnesses, minor injuries and medicines. Many provide extra services such as helping people stop smoking, carrying out medicines reviews or health checks and can provide emergency hormonal contraception.”
And remember you can also get an emergency supply of your prescription medicine from a pharmacist if you run short or have lost your medication.
Support sees people vote with feet
SINCE August last year, nurse Louise Holliday has been leading pharmacy services in the heart of North East communities promoting health lifestyles.
Pharmacy chain Healthcare Plus took Louise on to manage services across a number of branches, including ones in Stocksfield, Northumberland, and Felling, Gateshead.
And now customers can book-up for their HealthCheck service, which measures a range of health factors, including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, body mass index, body fat percentage, aerobic fitness and blood sugar levels.
Importantly results from these basic tests can alert the pharmacist to a range of potentially dangerous conditions which the customer could be at risk of getting, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
One service in particular which has really taken off is Healthcare Plus’ weight management scheme, where customers can get support and advice from Louise about losing weight in a realistic way.
“Most people who come to see me have tried every diet going and nothing is working for them,” said Louise, who qualified as a nurse in 2002.
“We do an initial consultation of 15 minutes where we’ll measure the customer’s Body Mass Index, body fat and waist/hip ratio. Ideally we want them to lose around one or two pounds a week so we work out a realistic target for them and calculate how many calories they should be having.
“Of course, I’ll give general advice about eating well and exercising, and give them a calorie counter, but to be honest most people know about all of that already.
“What is important about the service is that they will see me every week and that support can be really helpful. Having someone to report to provides a lot of motivation.”
The service sees around 20 people a week in Healthcare Plus pharmacies across the North East and is already seeing encouraging weight loss results.
“We believe that using nurses in community pharmacy can be very successful, and the skills and expertise of nurses and pharmacists often complement each other very well,” said Roger Pilsbury, director of HF Healthcare, who run Healthcare Plus pharmacies.
“Interestingly, our customers don’t appear surprised at seeing a nurse in our pharmacies, and are voting with their feet by using the service.
“The NHS is changing, professional barriers are being broken down and pharmacists can no longer practice in professional isolation.”
People flock to take up new free service
A TRIP to Numark Pharmacy in Wallsend could be all it takes to ease a number of health and wellbeing worries.
Since the pharmacy, on Wallsend High Street, moved into their new premises in January, staff have had several consultation rooms at their disposal, allowing them to advise customers on a range of issues.
And perhaps one of the most sensitive is emergency contraception, a service previously only overseen by GPs, now can be overseen by a nurse in a handful of walk-in clinics across the North East.
Pharmacist and branch manager Sheila Douglas is thrilled with the new consultation rooms and has seen massive numbers of customers take up the new services.
“The new services are doing really well and the consultations rooms are getting very busy,” said Sheila.
“Our smoking cession service is definitely the most popular, with at least three consultations every day, but the emergency contraception is growing as well, especially on the weekends.
“It’s important we provide this and people have easy access, because the medication has to be taken within 72 hours which can be difficult if GP surgeries are closed.
“Women seem very comfortable about coming along and we will ask them a number of questions to find out more about their health, as well as find out whether this is the right form of treatment for them.”
Numark Pharmacy, which is owned by Fairman Chemists Ltd, is three times the size since it moved and the premises have had a complete refit to accommodate the new services.
Other free services on offer now include smoking cessation, prescription collection and delivery, preparation of weekly tablet boxes, health checks for men over 50, blood pressure monitoring, elastic hosiery measuring and fitting, and a minor ailments service.