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  • Writer's pictureDavid Harper

Should I See A Pharmacist Instead Of A Doctor?

Last month, The Mirror published a Boots-orientated article proposing that people should consider visiting their pharmacy rather than GP for common or non-person specific ailments. We’re now going to clarify whether this is sound advice… or, indeed, not.

The thing is, these are trying times. The government’s austerity measures are squeezing the NHS to its breaking point and the whole country and its ever-swelling population of inhabitants are searching for the solutions and debating the decisions.

Next year, it’s projected that average waiting times to see your GP could reach the two-week mark, which for common ailments can be the entire inhibition period. This has led to speculation as to whether the tried and tested treatment path which begins with making that same old phone call to the doctors is still the best path you can take to diagnose and treat health issues.

As reported in the article, The National Pharmacy Association’s Stephen Fishwick has rallied to the push, saying: “You might be surprised at what pharmacies now offer: personalised medicines advice, help to quit smoking and to maintain good sexual health, treatment for common ailments, advice on preventing disease and more. It’s a package of care, not just packets of pills.”

So, Should The Public See Their Pharmacist First?

Yes and no.

There is no one steadfast rule here. Ultimately, we advise people to do what’s necessary to ensure sound health and in the case of sudden, onsetting illnesses or persistent and recurrent pain, a full diagnosis from a GP should always be the first port of call.

However, even in 2015, people are still waiting long times to see a GP for mild ailments and symptoms that can be diagnosed or treated by a pharmacist. Colds, allergies, rashes and mild pains can all be potentially treated or alleviated by OTC (Over-The-Counter) Medications.

In this instance, rather than suffering most or all of the full-term of the illness whilst waiting for a GP appointment that will have become redundant by the time the waiting period is up, people could walk away with an OTC medicine that will relieve the symptoms in the time your body naturally takes to combat the disease.


Ultimately pharmacists, whether in-house or locum such as we facilitate, have not had the diagnostic training and studies that GPs have.

There is a cap unto which point a pharmacist is able to offer a diagnosis. For common ailments and illnesses, a pharmacist will be able to recognise symptoms and recommend treatments; however more complicated issues will require traditional GP attention.

Also, pharmacists are not governed by the same laws as GPs when it comes to patient confidentiality. The environment of a pharmacy tends to be open plan, meaning others could overhear the discussions a patient has about their health– an issue that is a big concern for some.

That said, some pharmacies do possess small ante-rooms which can be used for patient consultations, meaning discussions may be able to be had away from the main counter.

Of course, another key factor involves the type of treatment available to be dispensed to the patient. Pharmacists can only dispense legally licensed over-the-counter medications without a prescription, meaning if the patient is ultimately suffering from an affliction which requires stronger, more specific treatment; a doctor’s appointment will be needed to receive the prescription anyway.


There are two true benefits of a pharmacist’s attention first:

  1. One: Time. As mentioned above, time for the British citizen is becoming a huge issue. With waiting times way up, the benefit of receiving a quick, immediate consultation on a basic level could save time and the discomfort of full symptoms without any treatment if the affliction is a common, easily treatable one. For cold and flu sufferers, this is a sound strategy.

  2. Two: Stress & Pain. Having an illness is uncomfortable and distressing enough, without the extra turmoil that can come from arranging an appointment that is days away and then suffering in that time unaided. If the pharmacist can diagnose the illness, even if she or he cannot provide an immediate treatment, they can suggest an intermediary treatment which will at least alleviate the symptoms whilst the patient waits for an appointment.

The ultimate truth is that there is no downside to a pharmacist’s attention. The pharmacist may not be able to diagnose the illness or provide the necessary treatment, however even if they have no legally dispensable medication they can offer to alleviate the symptoms, meaning the patient loses nothing from enquiring.

Pharmacists are fully-trained, highly knowledgeable people, in-house or locum alike. They can potentially save time and a lot of discomfort if their opinion is asked for first, and in the incidence of allergic reactions or rashes, can even provide a full cure, which could clear up the symptoms in half the time it would take to get an appointment with a GP!

Pharmacists cannot be a replacement for a GP and this is not a magic solution to all illness, unfortunately. What they can do is offer a practical, thoughtful option with a big upside, in a time when political pressures are causing traditional NHS GP appointments to be more stretched than ever before.

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