PEOPLE in Swindon are being urged to approach their local pharmacy with medical concerns as part of The Earlier, The Better campaign.

The national initiative aims to highlight the benefits of visiting a pharmacy at the first sign of ill health for guidance before rushing to the emergency department, as so many people still do.

Unknown to many, pharmacies are well placed to give residents medical advice on a range of minor conditions and often have longer opening hours than the average GP practice.

The campaign also sets out to encourage patients to check symptoms sooner rather than later at a pharmacy in a bid to nip health problems in the bud before they worsen – especially throughout the winter months when people are more likely to become ill.

They can also give free flu jabs to people over 65 or people at high risk of contracting the virus.

Adam James, a pharmacist at Old Town Pharmacy in the Co-op supermarket, said: “Once people work out for themselves or hear that their pharmacy can provide treatments and advice for simple conditions, that’s something they return to again and again and don’t bother going to their GP about,” he said.

“People don’t always need to see somebody by appointment; they can just come here and have a chat with us.

“We can help to suppress a cough before their throat becomes irritated and they have to visit their GP or help them get rid of it before it develops into a chest infection.

“As part of our pharmacy training degree we learn to recognise and differentiate between treatable symptoms and something more urgent.

“Coughs for instance are something we can deal with, with a high degree of certainty.

“If symptoms send alarm bells ringing we can refer people to their GP. It’s just more convenient to go to the pharmacy on some occasions.”

The campaign comes amid efforts by the Great Western Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust to reduce waiting times at its accident and emergency department by highlighting alternatives for people suffering from minor ailments.

While many see the emergency unit as their first port of call with any medical problems outside of their GP’s opening hours, a simple trip to the pharmacy could see them treated adequately and more swiftly.

Julie McCann, assistant director for pharmacy at NHS England (Bath, Gloucestershire, Swindon & Wiltshire) said: “You can seek advice for minor health problems sooner rather than later, by consulting your local pharmacist.

“Pharmacists and their teams offer expert advice and you won’t need to make an appointment – many are open from first thing in the morning until late in the evening.

“Pharmacists also offer health checks and advice on how to manage long term conditions.”