Stay Well - but get appropriate help

12th February 2018

We’ve given a new public health campaign urging parents to consult a pharmacist first for minor illness, rather than a GP or A&E, a cautious welcome


The NHS Stay Well Pharmacy campaign is urging more parents to use their pharmacy first in a move that could help free up GP time for sicker patients and help save the NHS around £850 million each year, as well as save time for busy families.

Commenting on the campaign, Dr Tom Nutt, Chief Executive at Meningitis Now, said, “Whilst we welcome this NHS initiative to better use the under-utilised value that community pharmacists offer in treating minor illnesses, we have real concerns about putting another step in the process of swift diagnosis for something like meningitis."

Valuable time lost

“It could result in valuable time lost - a commodity which is in short supply when trying to prevent the worst patient outcomes."

“Some 40% of all Meningococcal B cases occur in children under the age of four, and early symptoms can be mistaken for a cold. These symptoms often develop at an alarming rate."

“We would recommend and urge parents to learn the signs and symptoms of meningitis and trust their instincts to seek the appropriate medical intervention. In the case of suspected meningitis this is not a pharmacist, but a GP or the local A&E."

Worst possible scenario

“The worst possible scenario is a parent waiting to get help if a pharmacist is busy or if the pharmacy is closed.”

The call for people, in the five million parents of children under five, to use their local pharmacist first for advice is part of the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign launched by the NHS. It is backed by pharmacists and Netmums, the UK’s biggest parenting website.

Around 95% of people live within a walk of a local community pharmacy, making pharmacists extremely accessible as a first port of call for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds, tummy troubles or teething.

Self-treatable conditions

Research for the NHS shows around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions - such as coughs and tummy troubles - at a cost of more than £850 million each year. 

There are 45,923 registered pharmacists, 19,510 registered pharmacy technicians and 12,042 community pharmacies in England. Community pharmacies in England provide a service to around 1.2 million people every day. 

Every pharmacist is trained in managing minor illnesses and providing health and wellbeing advice. They train for five years in the use of medicines before they qualify and register with the professional regulator, and some also have an additional prescribing qualification. 

Misconceptions about service

A survey carried out as part of the campaign reveals that the proportion of adults questioned who would get advice from the pharmacist for minor health concerns is only 16%. This went down to just 6% for parents of young children.

While 77% of people agree they trust advice from their pharmacist, there are misconceptions about the level of service they can offer in terms of advice and expertise.

A quarter of people (26%) feel it is difficult to discuss health concerns in private with a pharmacist, with many not being aware that more than nine out of 10 pharmacies have a private consultation room. Nearly a quarter (24%) feel they would need to visit the GP anyway, so go direct to the doctor in the first instance. However, NHS England found that among adults who have received advice from a pharmacist in the past six months for themselves or their child, two thirds (66%) found it useful and less than a fifth (19%) needed to go to the GP afterwards.