Wales politics

Minor ailments treated for free at Welsh pharmacies

Medicine for minor ailments will be available free from High-Street chemists under a Welsh government scheme.

It is intended to free up GPs' time by making community pharmacists the first port of call.

Cures for things like indigestion, hay fever and head lice could be dispensed without needing a doctor's prescription.

Pharmacists will give advice or refer people to the GP if necessary.

The Welsh government said up to 40% of GPs' time was spent dealing with patients suffering from minor ailments.

People will need to register with their local pharmacy to take part.

The service - which will not require an appointment - is due to start within 12 months and will be extended across Wales next year.

The government is aiming to have 500,000 signed up within five years.

Based on a similar scheme in Scotland, it expects people to get around two items a year.

'Waiting times'

Health Minister Lesley Griffiths said using pharmacists to improve access to services was a key government commitment.

"We are also committed to make GP services more accessible, and this scheme will help to meet both of these objectives," she said.

"By visiting pharmacists rather than GPs for minor ailments, patients will not need to make an appointment, but they will still be able to get any necessary medicine without charge.

"This will free up GP time for dealing with more complex conditions, and may also decrease waiting times for appointments.

"Ultimately, the service will promote a more appropriate use of GP and community pharmacy skills. Of course, people will still be able to attend their GP surgeries if they feel it is necessary."

Prescription charges were scrapped in Wales in 2007.

Community Pharmacy Wales chair Ian Cowan said: "Such a service is extremely good use of the medicines expertise of pharmacists, as well as the widespread ease of accessibility of the 710 local pharmacies in villages, towns and city centres across the country.

"This is the key to making community pharmacies real health centres in the high street."

Pharmacies in Torfaen have been running a minor ailments scheme since 2006.

Pharmacists complete a form when they dispense treatments and are reimbursed by the local health board.

Susan Jones, of Mayberry Pharmacy in Trevethin, Pontypool, said conjunctivitis and head lice were among the most common complaints.

She said: "The area that I serve is a quite low economic grouping. Most of them would have gone to the GP for a free prescription.

"Some would have made pharmacy purchases, but times are hard at the moment."

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