How pharmacy can raise public awareness of health issues

by Tricia Armstrong

Community pharmacists have historically been the most accessible healthcare professionals and have successfully taken part in many public health campaigns, such as stop smoking services. In recent years the role of the pharmacist has become more diverse with pharmacists offering more services, such as flu vaccinations. Patients are looking for convenience and accessibility and pharmacists often meet these needs by providing services in the evenings and at weekends. In an article by Anderson and Thornley (2012), the authors discuss the reasons why patients, who are entitled to free NHS flu vaccinations, are prepared to pay for vaccinations because the service is more easily accessible in pharmacies.

Some pharmacists now offer travel advice, vaccinations and antimalarials, giving patients increased, more convenient access to these services. Raising awareness of disease risks in other countries and providing information on how to prevent many of them is beneficial at an individual level and as a public health initiative. However, currently around half of those travelling abroad depart without receiving any form of pre-travel health advice (RCPSG (2014).

Traditionally GPs and travel health service providers recommend travellers attend a consultation approximately six to eight weeks ahead of their trip and so it can be difficult for those travelling at short notice to obtain appointments. Although six to eight weeks is the ideal time to seek pre-travel health advice there are still benefits to receiving vaccinations and antimalarials immediately before departure. As pharmacies frequently offer extended opening hours, they can bridge the gap between what is available through GPs and travel health service providers and what travellers need and want.

Other aspects of pre-travel advice, such as sun care, insect repellents and other bite avoidance measures are also available in pharmacies, making pharmacies a one-stop shop for holistic pre-travel advice and products.

The Office of National Statistics (2016) reported that in 2015 UK residents made 65.1 million trips overseas, more than a 9% increase on 2014 and the trips were for longer time periods. People travel for many reasons, (such as holidays, business, visiting friends and family), and are often in varying states of health, including complex medical conditions. Pharmacists routinely engage with patients who have complex medical conditions and so are well placed to help them understand the need for pre-travel health consultations in advance of any trips. In this way pharmacists can increase public awareness of health risks associated with travel.

A word of caution- pharmacists should only provide pre-travel health advice if they have undertaken training and work within their competence.

References –

Anderson C and Thornley T. (2012) “It’s easier in pharmacy”: why some patients prefer to pay for flu jabs rather than use the National Health Service. BioMedCentral Health Services Research.  14:35

Office for National Statistics (2016) Travel Trends, 2015. Available at https://www.ons.gov.uk/peoplepopulationandcommunity/leisureandtourism/articles/traveltrends/2015 [Accessed 4th May 2017]

Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons, Glasgow (2014) Protecting the health of travellers from the UK and Ireland. Available at https://rcpsg.ac.uk/search?q=Protecting+the+health [Accessed 6th May 2017]

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