Free over-the-counter medicines for common ailments at Welsh pharmacies

People in Wales are being urged not to suffer in silence with common ailments and instead take advantage of an NHS scheme which provides over-the-counter medicines completely free of charge and without seeing a GP.

The ‘Common Ailments Scheme’ allows pharmacists to assess and treat up to 26 minor conditions, with all medicines being given free of charge without the need for a prescription. The scheme is available in all community pharmacies in Wales. Patients must register with the pharmacy to use the scheme, and consultations are carried out in a private room. If the pharmacist decides you need to see a doctor, they will refer you.

Conditions covered by the scheme are: acne, athlete’s foot, back pain, chickenpox, cold sores, colic, conjunctivitis, constipation, diarrhoea, dry eyes, dermatitis, haemorrhoids, hay fever, head lice, indigestion, in-growing toenails, ringworm, mouth ulcers, nappy rash, oral thrush, scabies, sore throat, teething, threadworms, vaginal thrush, and verrucae.

Even though GP surgeries are open (although you need to contact them first – you can’t just walk in now) some people with minor conditions are wary of contacting their GP because they don’t want to visit during the Covid-19 pandemic, or don’t want to bother their doctor during such a busy time.

But says Kayleigh Williams, Associate Director Contractor Engagement at Community Pharmacy Wales, many of the minor conditions people don’t want to bother a doctor for, but don’t want to pay for, can now be dealt with your local pharmacy at no cost to you: “Our message is very much ‘help us, help you’. Clearly, throughout the pandemic, other health conditions still need to be treated and, in many cases, if they are left to their own devices, they will get worse: things like backache, head lice, scabies, thrush, verrucae, colic, and conjunctivitis all need medical attention. And at a time when budgets are tight for many families in Wales, the Common Ailments Scheme is something people can lean on.

“The scheme allows pharmacists to assess and treat patients for up to 26 conditions – and they can give advice, supply free medicines from an agreed list, or refer the patient to a GP or other health professional, if necessary. All people need to do is register with the pharmacy to use the scheme. The process takes just a few minutes.

“This free service is a great way for patients to take control of their well-being, and it enables people to get appropriate treatment in a safe environment, at no cost to them at all. Community pharmacies across Wales are signed up to the scheme.”

As the Welsh Government reiterates the ‘Help Us, Help You’ message this winter, the aim of the scheme is to improve access to services and to encourage self-care whilst freeing up the time of GPs to deal with more complex cases. It is hoped it will encourage people to see a pharmacist instead of their GP for everyday conditions or common ailments. Pharmacies remain open during this period of lockdown, and people are being asked to collect their medicines, if they can, on their due date so pharmacies aren’t overloaded with demands for deliveries. People are also being reminded to wear masks when they visit the pharmacy and to be patient as some pharmacies may be busy.

Kayleigh Williams continued: “Pharmacists are highly trained professionals, and this service is helping to take some pressure off GPs, who are working hard to meet patient demand for appointments over the winter period. We are also seeing people build a greater rapport with their pharmacists thanks to the scheme. The past few years have seen pharmacies really evolving and offering more services, including flu vaccinations, emergency contraception, smoking cessation schemes and medicine reviews, and this is a very positive step for people’s long-term health and health management.”

To register for the Common Ailments Scheme please visit your local pharmacy.