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Happy 72nd Birthday NHS! The changing face of pharmacy.

How pharmacy and the NHS has changed in the past thirty years

This is an apothecary jar which would been used in a skin cream to relieve itching and store ingredients to make up medications. This particular jar would have been used to store camphor which was used to relieve itching and joint pain.

I haven't been around quite as long as the NHS has been in existence, but 27 years ago this very July I took my first steps as a newly qualified pharmacist and have seen many changes in the NHS, pharmacy and treatments. I had completed a three-year degree in pharmacy at Cardiff University - it is now a four-year masters - followed by one-year pre-registration, putting into practice all the theory learnt during those years. I was the very first year to complete the pharmacy registration exam at the end of the year, the first of many changes to the profession.

27 years ago we mainly hand wrote labels or they were typed out with earning labels added on by hand. Medicines came in pots of loose tablets, which we dispensed into smaller bottles. Patient information leaflets? Don't be silly! Patients didn't need to know about the medicines - they should take what they were told to! This has been a very big change over those years. Now everyone receiving a medicine should receive a patient information leaflet and, of course, there is now the internet, for everyone to get information, whether reliable or not. Patients are also by far more involved in the treatment decision-making.

At the advent of the NHS, pharmacists made an awful lot of medicines, compounds, creams etc themselves. By the time I qualified, this was already reduced but was still commonplace. Nowadays all unlicensed medicines are manufactured by specialist facilities, with non-being done in the community pharmacy.

Technology has also made a huge impact, as it has everywhere. We now have prescriptions sent electronically from the GP in the vast majority of cases, something that has been brought in only in the last 10 years. This year, during the coronavirus crisis, we have seen an increase in 'virtual' consultations, which will probably be here to stay.

I have seen a change of emphasis from dispensing and compounding medicines to more patient-orientated services, the first of which was the NHS stop-smoking service about 20 years ago. We are now able to provide vaccines, if suitably trained, and also can provide prescription-only medicines under strict protocols for certain conditions. Whilst flu vaccine provision is a national NHS service, other services, such as blood pressure measuring, glucose and cholesterol testing, some sexual health services are mostly only provided privately. We also provide travel vaccinations and are embracing video technology as well.

In all the changes, however, there is one constant; the reason I choose pharmacy in the first place was because I was drawn to science, but also people, and helping people, listening to their stories, is what still makes every day interesting for me.


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