GPs can cost as much €70 a visit, but going to your local chemist for a chat to the pharmacist costs nothing and is sometimes all you need, Tina Leonard reports.

 

Almost one in two people go online to get health advice and think twice about coughing up €50 for a GP. But going to your local chemist is also free and here’s why you should consider that more often

The average cost of a visit to the doctor in Ireland is €51, according to the most recent figures from the National Consumer Agency and in some cases in Dublin, prices can be as high as €70, so it’s no wonder people think twice about visiting their GP.

Statistics show that one in two use the internet as the first port of call for health advice - putting symptoms into Google to try and self-diagnose is common.

But the use of 'free advice' on the internet isn't always the safest way to pursue a health issue.

The Irish Pharmacy Union are campaigning to get people think a little more about the services your local chemist can offer, services which have a vital role in the delivery of health care in Ireland,.

A recent study by Quinn Healthcare found that 46% of people went online for health advice, so rather than run the risk of incorrect self-diagnosis why not head to your pharmacist instead as a first port of call.

Since last November, pharmacists are legally required to provide a dedicated consultation area so that you can talk in private.

Your pharmacist might refer you to a doctor, but equally you may have a condition that can be treated by over-the-counter medicine and that way you can avoid paying the doctor’s hefty fee.

What the pharmacist can do

The most common ailments your local pharmacist can help with for free:

1. Skin rashes, runny noses, high temperatures.

2. Aches and pains, whether non-specific or a sports injury.

3. Sore throats, colds and headaches. Remember your GP may not prescribe an antibiotic, so save yourself the trip.

4. Indigestion and stomach aches.

5. Personal issues such as constipation, hemorrhoids, bowel problems and your sexual health.

In addition the following can be provided:

  • Blood pressure testing
  • Cholesterol testing
  • Blood glucose testing
  • Body Mass Index testing and weight management
  • Smoking cessation services
  • Inhaler technique improvement
  • Some offer baby weighing services
  • Emergency contraceptive pill

Interestingly, pharmacists are reporting that patients are presenting to pharmacies more frequently with stress related symptoms compared to a year ago.

They have seen an increase in patients presenting with problems sleeping (75%), fatigue (66%), stomach problems (60%) and digestive problems (52%).

The instance of people seeking ‘morning after’ pill, which pharmacists have been allowed to dispense since last February, is also interesting.

Five months since it was introduced, pharmacists report that 85% of chemists have received request for the emergency contraception pill; and there are2.4 average weekly requests.

The age range of those asking is between 16 and 40 but mainly in the 20 to 25 year category with the average age 23.

Vaccines to come

Pharmacists are engaging in training sessions in relation to the provision of the flu vaccine.

This will be available from October, although details with regard to payment (for private patients) have yet to be set.

What else could pharmacists do?

The IPU’s campaign to enable them to provide the morning after pill and flu vaccine has been successful.

But they are campaigning to do more.

The idea is that pharmacists are used as a source of primary healthcare, thus freeing up the secondary healthcare system, and managing health problems before they become more acute.

1. De-regulation of some medicines so they can provide without prescription. Many are available in other EU countries without prescription and if this were possible here, clearly patients could save themselves the cost of a GP visit to pick up a prescription:

  • Chloramphenicol for bacterial conjunctivitis
  • Oral fluconazole for thrush
  • Sumatriptan for migraine
  • Terbinafine and griseofulvin for fungal infections of the skin
  • Aspirin 75mg for prevention of heart disease and stroke
  • Statins for prevention of heart disease
  • Trimethoprim for urinary tract infections

2. Generic drug substitution; that is the ability to substitute a branded drug named on a prescription for a cheaper generic one. Currently, if your doctor prescribes you medicine and writes down a brand name on your prescription, your pharmacist is obliged to dispense exactly that, and is not allowed to provide you with a cheaper generic version. Legislation to allow this to occur is currently being devised and could in place within 3 to 6 months.

In the meantime, when at the doctor, ask him or her to prescribe you a generic version to save yourself some money when you get to the pharmacy.

3. Medicine Use Reviews: 50% of long term/chronic patients do not take medicine properly, resulting in incomplete treatment and wastage. The proposal is that pharmacists could conduct clinical consultations to discuss taking the medication and how to alleviate any problems, with the patient.

4. Minor Ailments Scheme: If a private patient goes to pharmacist for over the counter medication for say head lice, they can just buy it. A medical card patient on the other hand, must get a prescription from their doctor to enable them to get it for free, which results in time wasting. Instead the pharmacists propose that they could give the medical card holder the medicine there and then and then do the follow-up administration with the GP themselves.

Saving money by buying generic over the counter medicine

When you’re at the chemist looking for an over the counter drug, the choice is yours as to whether you pay for a brand or pay less by buying generic. So ask your pharmacist what alternatives there are and what is the cheapest. Remember these drugs are exactly the same, there is no difference whatsoever and the savings made are worth it.

Pain relief

Brand: Nurofen €5.46 for 24 tablets

Generic: Ibuprofen €4.17 for 28 tablets

Brand: Panadol €3.36 for 24

Generic: Parecetamol €2.33 for 24

Allergies

Brand: Zirtek €5.40 for 7

Generic: Cetrine allergy €9.99 for 28

Hayfever:

Brand: Clarityn €5.65 for 7

Generic: Lorat €9.90 for 28

Cold sores:

Brand: Zovirax €10.46 for 2g

Generic: Acic €7.47 for 2g

* All prices from Chapelizod pharmacy, Dublin 20 on 6th September.