THE ROLE OF THE PHARMACIST
Not all chemists’ shops have a qualified pharmacist (the proper name for a chemist) on the premises. The ones that do not have a pharmacist are not allowed to sell drugs that have to be prescribed by a doctor, nor can they sell medicines that are not on the General Sale List.
Shops with a pharmacist in attendance are sometimes described as ‘dispensing chemists’ or simply ‘pharmacies’. The resident pharmacist (who may own the shop or work for the owner) will be a member of the Pharmaceutical Society and entitled to have the letters MPS after his name.
During their training pharmacists have to study the ways in which medicines are prepared and how they work, and they are also taught about the side effects of drugs and the dangers of mixing medicines. Many pharmacists claim that they know more about drugs than doctors do and some of them are probably right. They are not, however, taught about the diagnosis or treatment of illness and so they are better able to offer advice about minor illnesses than major ones.
WHEN TO GO TO A PHARMACIST
It is estimated that in an average sort of year the average sort of person has one cold, one attack of muscle strain, one bout of indigestion and one burst of diarrhoea.
Naturally, there is no such creature as the ‘average person’ but these are the sort of problems that a pharmacist can help with. Each general practitioner in Britain has an average of 2500 patients to look after and if each one of these visited the surgery for these minor problems the GP would see thirty of these minor problems every day. He would have even less time to spend with the more seriously ill.
HOW TO GET THE BEST OUT OF THE PHARMACIST
If you aren’t sure what medicine to buy and you want help then decide before you go into the shop exactly what you want advice about. Make sure that you see the pharmacist and not an assistant who may have been working in the shop for no more than a few days and who may know less than you do about home medicines. If the pharmacist recommends a branded product you may be able to buy an alternative BP or BPC preparation which will probably be cheaper and just as effective. Ask him.
Make sure before you leave the shop that you know when to take the medicine and how much to take. The instructions should be on the bottle or container. Ask him how long the medicine will keep and whether there are any special storage instructions. And remember that if your symptoms persist or get worse you need to see a doctor. Obey the five-day rule: if you aren’t better or improving in five days – see a doctor.
THE PHARMACIST AND FIRST AID
The Chemists Defence Association recently reviewed the first aid procedures that would be regarded as normal business for a retail pharmacist. They came to the conclusion that a qualified chemist could be expected to: give advice on the treatment of minor ailments such as coughs, colds, intestinal upsets, verrucas, warts and minor foot problems; provide simple first aid assistance by removing splinters, treating minor cuts and bruises, and taking grit from a customer’s eye.
They also decided that it would not be reasonable to expect a pharmacist to remove foreign bodies from ears or noses; to syringe ears; or to provide or suggest treatment for more serious disorders.
It is only reasonable to point out that pharmacists do not get paid to provide first aid services and therefore even the most conscientious Samaritan might feel resentful if he were continually asked for help from customers who bought all their home medicine at the local supermarket.