Patients want to learn about their condition and medicines

The 2016 Proprietary Association Of Great Britain (PAGB) report ‘Self-care nation’ cites the public’s lack of awareness of pharmacists’ skills and expertise as the main barrier to using pharmacy as the first port of call for help to manage minor ailments (
Pharmaceutical Journal online, 17 November 2016
). Although 18% of those who did not first seek help at pharmacies believed pharmacists were less qualified than doctors and hospital staff, the remaining 82% (presumably) had no such beliefs.

Research into self-care and the management of minor ailments at the University of Aberdeen may shed further light on this issue. Notwithstanding the PAGB report, people involved in our research say they are just as likely to visit a pharmacy as a GP to manage a minor ailment, assuming the time and cost associated with either course of action are similar[1]

We also know that community pharmacies help people with minor ailments to achieve similar levels of symptom resolution as GPs[2]
. In point of fact, we have found that one of the main drivers for selecting which healthcare professional to consult about minor ailments is convenience, components of which include waiting time, location of pharmacy and availability of car parking[2]

It is hard to see how community pharmacies can become more convenient, given their widespread presence across both urban and rural settings, long opening hours and the fact that people can consult their pharmacist without the need for an appointment. Perhaps the answer to how to tempt more people with minor ailments into pharmacies lies in the customer experience.

In a recent study we found that, when choosing a pharmacy for advice about a minor ailment, people place highest value on a pharmacy service that will improve their understanding of symptoms and how to manage them, delivered by staff members who are friendly and approachable[3],[4]
. In other words, people need to have a positive experience when they go to the pharmacy and come out feeling like they know more than they did when they went in. Awareness of staff training is also important but, in fact, respondents did not differentiate between trained counter staff and qualified pharmacists for minor ailment advice.

Perhaps we should be bolstering pharmacists to provide better services by disseminating evidence that demonstrates the effectiveness of minor ailments services, rather than demoralising them by suggesting (possibly falsely) that people prefer GPs.

Terry Porteous

Research fellow

Christine Bond

Emeritus professor, academic primary care

Mandy Ryan

Professor of health economics

Verity Watson

Senior research fellow

University of Aberdeen

Mags Watson

Professor of health services research

University of Bath


[1] Porteous T, Ryan M, Bond C et al. Preferences for self-care or professional advice for minor illness; a discrete choice experiment. Br J Gen Pract 2006;57:911–917. PMCID: PMC1934050

[2] Watson M, Ferguson J, Barton G et al. A cohort study of influences, health outcomes and costs of patients’ health seeking behaviour for minor ailments from primary and emergency care settings. BMJ Open 2015 5:e006261. doi: 10.1136/bmjopen-2014-006261  

[3] Porteous T, Bond C, Watson M et al. Managing minor ailments in the United Kingdom; the public’s preferences for characteristics of community pharmacies. A discrete choice experiment. PLoS One 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0152257 

[4] HERU Policy Brief, October 2016. Think pharmacy: Making community pharmacy the first port of call. Available at: (accessed 5 December 2016).

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, March 2017, Vol 298, No 7899;298(7899):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2016.20202043

You may also be interested in