Letter: Complementary roles of the doctor and pharmacist

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The Independent Online
Sir: Jim, the 90-year-old patient ('Complaint that a prescription cannot cure', 26 May), should have no worries over the opening of the new pharmacy in his Somerset village. He and the other residents should welcome this valuable addition to the health services in the area.

In spite of suggestions that medical services would suffer if a pharmacy was allowed to open, in practice the health service has been seen to improve when it has proved possible to apply the underlying principle in the National Health Services Acts: that the members of each profession should, ideally, undertake the tasks for which they are specifically trained. Anything else should only be tolerated when the ideal is unattainable.

Every day, the value of the review of prescriptions before they are dispensed is confirmed in every pharmacy in the country. There are frequent contacts between doctors and pharmacists to resolve any issues that arise - particularly important for an elderly patient like Jim who is likely to be on multiple therapy. The pharmacist will also make sure that any necessary advice is given about taking or using the medicines supplied, to ensure maximum benefit. Research shows that information of this kind is much better absorbed in the relatively relaxed atmosphere of the pharmacy than in the surgery. And, of course, the pharmacist is the only health professional who studies every aspect of medicines at university and during preregistration training.

Jim can be happy, too, that his local pharmacy will arrange for his prescriptions to be collected and his medicines delivered, with all the necessary information, if he is housebound. He should think, too, of the wide range of other services that the new pharmacy will provide to the village for the first time, especially sound, informed advice - without the need to make an appointment - on treatment of common ailments. This includes, as research shows, advice to see the doctor when that is the right course of action in the pharmacist's view, as it is in more than 15 per cent of the cases.

Yours faithfully,

JOHN FERGUSON

Secretary and Registrar

Royal Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain

London, SE1

27 May

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