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UK Pharmacies and Prescription Medication

One of the main foundations of primary care across the UK, pharmacies are not only the obvious and best option for getting your medicine. Often, they are also your first stop when you have minor ailments – even before your GP! Our article gives you all the details on UK pharmacies.
Pharmacists are among your most immediate contact persons when it comes to healthcare in the UK.
  • Pharmacists in the UK don’t just hand out medicine — if you’re feeling unwell or have a minor ailment, they can be a great first stop.
  • A fairly new scheme known as the New Medicine Service provides support for newly-diagnosed patients with certain long-term illnesses and provides them with support.
  • While prescriptions in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland are free of charge, patients in England have to pay for theirs.

In the UK, pharmacies and chemist’s shops can be found just about anywhere. No matter which country, region, city, or neighborhood you might pick for your expat assignment to the UK, pharmacies will easily be spotted near your home. Additionally, you can also use the NHS pharmacy search engine if you do not feel like exploring the neighborhood.

Prompt and Professional: Your Pharmacist

Generally speaking, you can rest assured that your local chemist is a well-trained professional. Not only does everyone aspiring to become a pharmacist have to work under the supervision of an experienced colleague for at least a year, they also need to be registered with, approved by, and adhere to the standards of the General Pharmaceutical Council (GPhC), the regulatory body for UK pharmacies and chemists.

Thus, your local pharmacist is qualified to offer advice on common ailments (see below).  If necessary, they may advise you to go see a doctor. In the UK, pharmacies are also often the first stop for people suffering from common minor conditions to get screened.

However, please keep in mind that your local pharmacy may not necessarily offer all the services listed below:

  • emergency contraception
  • truss fittings
  • incontinence supplies
  • needle exchange and supervised drug administration
  • pregnancy testing
  • “stop smoking” services
  • chlamydia screening and treatment
  • weight management

Ailments your pharmacist can help you with:

  • bugs and viruses
  • minor injuries
  • stomach trouble
  • women's health
  • skin conditions
  • allergies
  • aches and pains
  • children's health problems

Never-ending Support: The New Medicine Service

In England, though not in the rest of the UK, pharmacies and pharmacists were given an additional responsibility and area of expertise in 2011. The New Medicine Service scheme applies to patients suffering from asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, type 2 diabetes, or high blood pressure who have been prescribed a new medication for their condition. They can make appointments with their pharmacist to discuss any questions they might have regarding their new treatment and their progress with it. Since the scheme began in 2011, over 90% of pharmacies in England have offered it to their patients.

This scheme is designed to help patients through the – sometimes problematic – first few weeks of starting a new medicine. A similar program which is not limited to patients suffering from the conditions above, but offered less frequently by UK pharmacies, is the Medicine Use Review. You can get informed about the details on the website of the PSNC.

If Trouble Arises

Obviously, a pharmacist’s level of professionalism does not say much about their behavior towards customers and general conduct at the workplace – notwithstanding that the GPhC has a set of behavioral standards all people working in UK pharmacies have to meet.

If you feel that the conduct of your neighborhood chemist is unacceptable and words alone do not seem to have much effect, you are free to file a complaint either with the NHS or directly with the GPhC. Please understand, however, that formal complaints do carry a lot of weight and might have drastic consequences, so do not take this option lightly.  


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 

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