PEOPLE are being encouraged to 'think pharmacy first' this winter for fast advice and treatment for a range of common conditions.

Pharmacists in north Cumbria are urging people, with minor health concerns, to get faster 'walk-in' care at their local community pharmacy – instead of making an appointment with their GP practice or visiting A&E.

Paul Fieldhouse, clinical director of Pharmacy at NCIC, said: “Pharmacies have changed over the years and are busier than ever because of the number of services they offer.

"Pharmacists are skilled experts in medicine. Today, there are more services available to book in community pharmacies such as blood pressure checks and flu jabs.

“More medicines are also available over the counter to manage common illnesses. An example of this is antimicrobial eye drops and many skin conditions.

“If you run out of medicines then some pharmacies are able to supply them as most prescriptions are done electronically these days and that can make life easier for the patients.

“Pharmacies are busier than ever and there is a 24/7 demand. Some open late when GP surgeries are closed and some are open until 10pm. Part of the appeal of a pharmacy is that you don’t have to make an appointment.

“Most pharmacies have a consultation room where you can talk with the pharmacist without being overheard; you don’t necessarily need an appointment to use it.

“Pharmacists are trained to spot so-called ‘red flag symptoms’ and it is quite common for pharmacists to signpost you to fellow health care professionals or even make formal referrals into NHS care pathways.

“It takes years of training to become a pharmacist. But you can usually get an appointment with one in no time at all, at your local pharmacy.”

Under the common conditions scheme, community pharmacists can offer help and advice on:

• Aches and pains - back pain, headache, period pain, teething

• Allergies - bites and stings, hay fever, skin reaction

• Colds and flu – cough, congestion, sore throat, fever / temperature (including fever following immunisation)

• Ear care – earache, ear infection, ear wax

• Eye care - bacterial conjunctivitis, styes

• Gastrointestinal care – diarrhoea, constipation, indigestion, haemorrhoids (piles)

• Head lice

• Mouth care - cold sores, oral thrush, ulcers

• Skin care - athletes foot, contact dermatitis / atopic eczema, nappy rash, warts, and verrucae.

• Vaginal thrush

This is in addition to a wide range of other conditions that can be treated with medication available from your local pharmacist.

Treatment under the common conditions scheme is fast, convenient, and any medication prescribed will be free of charge for people who don’t normally pay for their prescriptions, or charged at the usual NHS prescription rate for those who do.

Many local community pharmacies also offer advice and treatment for women, aged 16-64, with uncomplicated urinary tract infections, free blood pressure checks for over 40s and flu and COVID-19 immunisations.