Community pharmacists

Community pharmacists are also called chemists. They are experts in how to use medicine. They dispense prescriptions, sell over-the-counter medicines and can give advice on treating minor ailments and certain health conditions.

Finding out if you need to see a doctor

All community pharmacies have a qualified pharmacist who is registered with the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland.

Pharmacists can give expert advice on medicines and many common conditions, without an appointment and sometimes outside usual hours.

Before going to your GP,  it is worth speaking to your pharmacist. This  can help you decide if you need to see the doctor.

Pharmacists can give information about other local health services.

Getting medicines

Pharmacists dispense and supply medicines. 

You can buy over-the-counter medicines (which don't need a prescription from your doctor) and get prescribed medicines from a pharmacist.

Repeat dispensing means they can supply you with prescribed medicines for up to a year, without you seeing your GP each time a prescription finishes.

Getting advice on medication

Self-medication for common ailments has become popular, especially with different over-the-counter medicines available to buy.

Your pharmacist can advise you on the most effective treatments and make sure that you aren't using an over-the-counter product that clashes with a prescription medicine.

They can also dispose of expired medicines or medicines you no longer need. 

Getting health advice

Pharmacists are qualified to give advice about different health matters, including minor ailments. They are trained to advise you whether your symptoms can be treated without the need to see a doctor, or whether you should seek further advice from your GP.

In many cases, you may not need to see a doctor at all and can get advice and treatment from your community pharmacist. The Minor Ailments Service is available from community pharmacies and offers advice and treatment for a wide range of common ailments.

Treatments provided as part of the Minor Ailments Service are free of charge, and you will get a private consultation and advice from a pharmacist without the need to make an appointment.

Pharmacists also offer a range of other services, including answering any questions you may have about medication you may be taking.

Pharmacy opening hours

You can check pharmacy rotas on Sundays and public holidays in Northern Ireland on the Business Services Organisation (BSO) website.

When a pharmacist may be able to help

Your pharmacist may be able to help you with:

  • coughs, colds, eye conditions, stomach upsets, skin conditions, allergies, aches and pains
  • common drugs, vitamins and minor first-aid
  • healthy eating and living, including giving up smoking
  • blood pressure and diabetes monitoring and needle exchange, truss fittings, stoma products and incontinence supplies
  • women's health, including treatment for thrush, emergency contraception and pregnancy testing
  • children's health, including nappy rash, teething, coughs and colds, threadworms, head lice, warts and verrucas
  • all prescribed and over-the-counter medicines

When a pharmacist may not be able to help

Your pharmacist may not routinely be able to help with:

  • stitching or wound and dressing care
  • severe lacerations, cuts, severe sprains, strains and fractures
  • infected wounds and foreign bodies
  • head injuries or loss of consciousness
  • suspected broken bones or heavy blood loss
  • persistent chest pain or difficulty breathing
  • drug overdose, swallowing foreign bodies or poisoning

You will need to ask your GP or other health and social care provider.

Choose well

Choose well information can help you make the right choice when deciding who to visit for healthcare. 

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