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Minor ailments but bigger problems

The behaviours and attitudes of a young woman in his pharmacy are indicative of where the current NHS demand problems start, writes Terry Maguire

Unlike the tattoo, her second marriage had only lasted two years but, as a witness to hope over experience, she was again taking the plunge; this time for good, this time with Mr Right. The wedding was this weekend and there would be more than 200 guests. So the counter conversation progressed in a sanguine fashion and, having brought Annette up to date with her world, she asked if she could have a word with the pharmacist.


She had two problems, well, three really, and because she was so busy with the wedding she was unable to get to the GP so could I help?


Firstly, she could not hear in her left ear – no pain, but she had been using an earbud and nothing was shifting, so could I give her something "on prescription". Secondly, she had an infection that was giving her a sore throat, so could I give her some antibiotics until she sees the GP. She was worried it would "settle on her chest".


Her last request was more unusual. She had a ‘personal' tattoo of her ex-partner's name and was wondering if I could suggest a cream cover to mask it. Her husband-to-be had, of course, seen it but given the impending nuptials she felt it would be appropriate to do something. And, anyway, after the wedding she would have it removed and her husband-to-be's name tattooed on her person as he would have her name tattooed on his.

Warnings of imploding emergency departments and over-worked GPs have their origins in a generation removed from the reality of a health service based on the principle of being free at the point of access  


I suddenly realised that it was here, in the behaviours and attitudes of this young woman and the many like her, that the current NHS demand problems start. Warnings of imploding emergency departments and over-worked GPs have their origins in the demands of a generation removed from the reality of a health service based on the principle of being free at the point of access. And yet I had a minor ailments scheme that would address one of her problems and, in a small way, reduce this demand: yet she was unaware of it.


I advised her on management of earwax and wrote a pharmacy voucher for eardrops. I explained that, in a healthy young woman such as she, a viral upper respiratory infection did not require treatment with antibiotics so no need to visit the GP. She was grateful for the eardrops but unwilling to pay for the ibuprofen and Strefen lozenges I recommended and left the pharmacy clearly unhappy. I looked to Annette and she returned her usual wry smile that always suggests it's really me who doesn't understand.


Terry Maguire is a community pharmacist in Northern Ireland with more than 20 years' experience. He is recognised as a pioneer in the development of pharmacy services in the UK and beyond, having developed a model service for pharmacists in screening for raised cholesterol in the 1980s, and a smoking cessation programme in the early 1990s. Read more by Terry Maguire

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