Would you use a pharmacist instead of visiting your GP for advice?

One in three people said yes when asked this question in a recent England wide poll. We spoke to Healthwatch Cornwall to find out more about changing attitudes to pharmacy services.
doctor writing prescription

Changing attitudes

In a recent poll Healthwatch England commissioned, 33% of people in England said they would consider using a pharmacist instead of visiting a GP for advice, while over half would go to a pharmacist with a minor complaint.

From our own research the public understand the current pressures GPs face. Individuals have told us that they are worried about doctors burning themselves out and want to help ease the burden.

Could pharmacists help by providing a wider range of health services?

This is one of the key questions Healthwatch Cornwall explored to see if local pharmacy services could be improved. We asked them more about their work:

What made you investigate this issue?

A 2014 report by the NHS Alliance and Royal Pharmaceutical Society stated that pharmacists’ skills were being under used in primary care. Following this report and feedback from patients, we wanted to find out more about people's experiences of using pharmacies, as well as additional services people might like to access. We carried out a survey with local people in Cornwall to find out more.

What did people say about existing services?

Over 640 people responded to the survey we did in Cornwall and the findings were largely very positive. For example, 93% of participants rated pharmacy staff as polite and helpful.

Many respondents also had good things to say about staff attitudes, the support and advice offered and the quality of services. Around 74% of people felt comfortable talking about their health and wellbeing with pharmacists.

However, certain groups of patients did have issues with pharmacies. More than half of younger respondents said they felt uncomfortable talking to a pharmacist about their health problems, with a third saying a lack of privacy was an issue.

Patients in Cornwall also told us about improvements they would like to see such as reduced prescription collection times, spaces for patients and pharmacists to talk in private, more available staff and keeping standard medications in stock.

How do people feel about pharmacists offering more services?

What was clear is that a significant number of people who took part in our survey are happy about getting more help from their pharmacy, depending on the service.

Over 6 in 10 people said they would be happy to get advice at a pharmacy on taking medication, as well as their blood pressure, health checks, diabetes and cholesterol level testing.

What happened as a result?

On the basis of these findings, we provided six recommendations to commissioners and providers. These included improving the pharmacy experience for young people by rolling out more 'virtual chemists' in store to provide on-screen diagnosis for minor ailments.

Pharmacists could also offer private consulting rooms for patients to provide a safe space to discuss health issues. The report also highlighted key services which people would be happy to see a pharmacist for.

Have you received any feedback?

We received positive feedback from Georgina Praed, NHS Kernow’s Head of Prescribing and Medicines Optimisation, who said: “We are always keen to learn what our patients and customers think about the services provided and Healthwatch Cornwall’s report has highlighted good practice and made suggestions for further improvements.”

Chief Officer of Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Pharmaceutical Committee, Phillip Yelling said: “We are pleased that the feedback is generally positive about the services that we provide in community pharmacy and we will review the findings so that we can provide an even better service in the future.”

During the winter months, we encourage people to consider a variety of medical support options, including making use of pharmacies through the NHS Stay Well this Winter campaign.

Read Healthwatch Cornwalls' report on their website

Want to have your say on health and care services?

Find your local Healthwatch