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How to run a successful minor ailments service

As English pharmacies gear up for a national scheme, pharmacists reveal their secrets to success

After years of campaigning, the rollout of a national community pharmacy minor ailments service across England looks set to become a reality. 

The service has been a core aim of PSNC’s for some time, and it is now negotiating with NHS Employers over how much to pay pharmacists to give out commonly requested advice and treatments. 

England’s national service will be new, but many pharmacists have already been offering minor ailments schemes – whether locally or through the national services in Wales and Scotland. They reveal what they have learned from providing the service.

Fiona McElrea
Owner, Whithorn Pharmacy, Wigtownshire

“Use GPs to promote the service”

Scotland rolled out its national minor ailments service in 2006, and the scheme has since gained traction. By March 2014, nearly 900,000 patients were registered with the scheme. 

It can be difficult for pharmacists to promote the service on their own, so Fiona McElrea recommends working with GPs. “Receptionists and GPs can signpost patients to you to save GP appointments and you will then find that, in the future, patients come to you first before contacting their GP,” she explains. 

“Patients talk, and word of mouth will spread if you give a good service. You can then sign up whole families if they fit the criteria,” she adds.

Mark Cowley
Hope Pharmacy, Mountain Ash

“Explain the service to patients”

In Wales, a common ailments service is being trialled in pathfinder areas. The service covers 26 minor ailments and is available across 13 pharmacies in Cynon Valley and 19 in Gwynedd.

One of these is Hope Pharmacy, a family-run pharmacy in Mountain Ash, Cynon Valley. Manager Mark Cowley says he has learned the importance of explaining the service to patients – particularly in light of the recent social media coverage about patients being able to get free medicines

“Make sure you explain the service properly to all patients so they are clear that it is for treating minor ailments rather than stocking up their medicine cabinets with paracetamol,” he stresses.

Ray Hall
Pharmacist and owner, Raymond C Hall Pharmacy, Hull

“Don’t be overawed”

Hull has run a minor ailments service in its pharmacies for around five years that “works very well”, says Ray Hall. He advises pharmacists not to panic at the thought of adopting a new service. 

“We are actually getting paid for something that we’ve done forever for nothing,” he explains. “Read the formulary and get to grips with it, but it’s mostly stuff you’ll know and do anyway, so don’t be overawed by the whole thing.” 

There are patterns of behaviour to look out for, but he believes these are easily ironed out. “We have people who try to abuse the scheme but, if they’ve been back to us a couple of times with the same thing, then we tell them it’s time they had it looked at by their GP and that we’ll be happy to give them a referral,” Mr Hall says. 

Mark Stone
Project pharmacist, Devon LPC

“Realise the difference you make”

Last year, Devon LPC won money from the Prime Minister’s Challenge fund to run a pharmacy minor ailments service. 

It is about to publish an evaluation of the scheme, which gives pharmacists greater powers to make emergency supplies and treat minor illnesses. 

Mark Stone is keen to stress the value of the service to pharmacy staff and the wider NHS. 

His LPC has calculated that pharmacy teams made 8,000 interventions from November 2014 to the end of March 2015, saving around 450 hours of surgery GPs’ time. On top of this, they have saved 300 hours of out-of-hours GPs’ time and 30 hours of A&E care. 

“Our pharmacists find the scheme liberating because they get to use their skills to help support and educate patients to improve their ability to self-care,” Mr Stone adds.

Robbie Turner
Chief executive officer, Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire

“Plan ahead”

From his experience of running a minor ailments service locally, Robbie Turner advises pharmacists to plan ahead. 

“There needs to be planning and resourcing locally to ensure a successful and high quality service, and pharmacy teams must have ongoing support to help them deliver a high quality service that is patient-centred and respected by professional colleagues,” he says.


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