Now So Much More Than Just a Dispenser of Prescriptions; Pharmacists Were the First Port of Call for Many Sick People before the Advent of the NHS. in the Past 60 Years Their Role Has Changed Dramatically from Pill Maker to Public Health Adviser, as Cath Savage Explains

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), March 7, 2008 | Go to article overview

Now So Much More Than Just a Dispenser of Prescriptions; Pharmacists Were the First Port of Call for Many Sick People before the Advent of the NHS. in the Past 60 Years Their Role Has Changed Dramatically from Pill Maker to Public Health Adviser, as Cath Savage Explains


Byline: Cath Savage

THE face of pharmacy in Wales has changed beyond recognition since the birth of the NHS in 1948.

While many still have a role supplying medicines to the people of Wales, the way in which pharmacists have evolved to become an integral part of the healthcare team might never have been imagined 60 years ago.

In the past six decades we have made major developments in medicines and the pharmacist's role now impacts on every stage along the path of drug development, manufacturing, prescribing and supply.

Today pharmacists provide a range of innovative services to the Welsh public, working closely with other healthcare professionals.

This includes providing people with advice on healthy living, signposting them to sources of information or helping them understand more about how their medicines work.

The introduction of the NHS meant free access for all to health services and medicines, with costs met from public funds.

When it happened, doctors and pharmacists were overwhelmed by the surge in demand for their services - it seems the public were more than ready to claim free healthcare.

An editorial in The Pharmaceutical Journal just after the NHS began says, "The only parties completely prepared were the members of the general public who, with great promptitude, immediately asserted their rights and claimed what they thought they were entitled to.

"Doctors' surgeries were besieged; chemists were overwhelmed with prescriptions."

In just one year - in 1949 - the number of prescriptions that pharmacists supplied in Wales more than doubled.

Before the NHS, a visit to the doctor was a last resort unless you were rich.

So the high street chemist-now known as a pharmacist - would have been your first port of call for advice on medical complaints and medicines.

In those days, pharmacists were expected to prepare a wide range of products for their customers and this took up much of their time.

These would include medicines like painkillers, sedatives and cough mixture, but also toiletries such as shampoo and toothpaste, perfumes, cosmetics, and even rat poison.

In those days remedies didn't come ready made in bottles and packets - the pharmacist made up the medicines from the raw ingredients.

Until the early 1950s tablets were made in the pharmacy using tablet machines, while powders had to be individually wrapped in paper and secured with sealing wax.

An expert dispenser would have dealt with around four prescriptions an hour in 1948 - imagine the chaos that would cause today.

What's more, they had to make sense of the doctor's handwritten instructions in Latin.

The pharmacist would have handwritten every label, but as a patient you had no idea what you were taking - it simply said "the tablets" or "the mixture".

It is only in the last 30 years that it has become law to include the drug name on the bottle.

Visit your local pharmacy today and you won't find the pharmacist hidden in the dispensary mixing up medicines.

Today, medicines are all produced in factories and many pharmacies now have technicians whose job it is to make up prescriptions.

And because the whole process is now computerised and medicines preprepared, an average pharmacy today can dispense 265 items a day - a far cry from four an hour in 1948.

Today the pharmacist's role is so much more than a dispenser of the doctor's prescriptions.

Like their 1948 counterparts they still have a key role in advising patients on which medicines to take, but these days that role extends to advising people on how to stay healthy and also helping them understand their medicines better.

Over the last 20 years an increasing number of prescription medicines have become available over-the counter for patients to buy, such as treatments for thrush, antibiotic eye drops, athlete's foot cream and cold sore cream. …

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