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Pharmacy First Service launched for winter ailments


Community pharmacies across Northern Ireland will provide a Pharmacy First service again this winter to encourage patients to contact their local chemist for treatment and advice on a range of common winter conditions.

The Pharmacy First service is a winter initiative by the health service which enables patients to have a consultation virtually or in a private area with their local community pharmacist.

Pharmacists can offer advice and treatment for common conditions like sore throat and common colds, recommend treatment and refer patients to other healthcare professionals as appropriate.

Patients can call into a community pharmacy for a consultation, but for infection control purposes, it is preferable if they ring the pharmacy first for advice.  They can then have a consultation with the pharmacist over the phone, a video call or go to the pharmacy in person. Remote consultations will also be available for those who are vulnerable, patients who are continuing to shield, and those isolating due to COVID-19, who are unable to get medical advice for winter and COVID care.

Anyone experiencing any COVID symptoms such as high temperature, continuous cough or loss of taste or smell should NOT go into the pharmacy.

Last winter, over 8000 consultations per month were offered to patients.  92% of people who used the service previously said they felt more confident about managing their cold or sore throat after speaking to their community pharmacist.

Cathy Harrison, Chief Pharmaceutical Officer, Department of Health said,

“Community pharmacists are the first point of contact for many people in need of healthcare advice and support, with nearly 10% of the population visiting one of our community pharmacies every day. This year our health service has seen unprecedented and unrelenting pressures across the whole system, and our community pharmacy teams adapted remarkably well to fast-changing circumstances and adjusted their services so they could continue to support people at a challenging time.”

 “Community pharmacy teams are now developing their role as an integral part of the Health Service, and are delivering a range of new services specifically designed to meet the needs of our population during the pandemic period. The  ‘Pharmacy First’ service will offer people the opportunity to readily access a consultation with a highly trained healthcare professional for advice and treatment for common winter conditions, and relive pressures on other acute care providers such as GPs and Emergency Departments.”

Joe Brogan, Head of Pharmacy, Health and Social Care Board said,

“The Covid-19 pandemic continues to put huge pressures on the health and social care system. Community pharmacists have played an important role throughout this pandemic and will continue to do so this winter as we experience a second surge. We encourage the public, when they have a minor ailment such as a sore throat or a cold and are considering going to their GP – to think Pharmacy First. Community pharmacists will use their skills and expertise to provide advice and treatment for a range of common conditions. This will help support GP practices, GP out-of-hours services and Emergency Departments over the coming months when winter ailments occur more frequently.” 

Chief Executive of Community Pharmacy NI, Gerard Greene continued:

“We are pleased to be launching this year’s Pharmacy First for Winter Ailments Service at community pharmacies across Northern Ireland. With the health service already under tremendous strain, and on course for further winter pressures, this service will allow community pharmacies to manage common ailments such as sore throats and the common cold whilst easing pressures on other parts of our health service.”

 “As we enter cold and flu season, community pharmacists will ensure available and accessible care is provided for people in the local community, to help them manage minor conditions at home. We expect there to be an upsurge in cold and other winter ailments and that is why we have put in place the Pharmacy First Service: to continue to be front door to the health service, providing expert assessments, advice and treatments.”

“We would like to remind patients who are experiencing any COVID symptoms such as high temperature, continuous cough or loss of taste or smell  NOT to go into the pharmacy, please phone your pharmacy instead for advice.”

With so much continued uncertainty around how to manage COVID, the community pharmacy network is also playing an important role in assisting patients through this period in a safe and remote fashion. I would strongly encourage anyone unable to access face-to-face advice and assistance from their community pharmacy because they are shielding, isolating or vulnerable to get into contact with their local community pharmacy to schedule a telephone or video consultation.”

Michael Hill from Hill’s Pharmacy in Tandragee said:

“Throughout the pandemic we have seen the enormous pressure placed upon our health services. Not only are we now facing a second wave, but we are facing it during winter flu season and that requires a radical rethink of how we treat patients.”

“Community pharmacy teams are proud to be able to play our part in ensuring care continues to be provided in the local community as far as possible, to relieve pressures on other parts of the health service, particularly for  minor conditions.”

“Our community pharmacies will become important hubs for people in the community so they can access good advice and healthcare this winter. The remote access feature of the service we offer will also benefit greatly those who have to shield, those who are vulnerable and those who may be COVID symptomatic and unable to leave the house. We know many of our patients will find this service of huge benefit. We would encourage everyone to work with us and use the service if they need it.”

The Pharmacy First service will be available from participating community pharmacies from 2nd November 2020 until 31st March 2021.  All patients registered with a GP in Northern can use this service, with the exception of temporary residents and patients living in nursing or residential homes.