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Pharmacies

If your GP decides you need treatment with medication, you will be given a prescription. You should take this to your community pharmacy (a high-street chemist). In England, you will be charged a standard prescription charge (currently £7.65 per item), unless you are exempt from paying this charge (see NHS costs and exemptions). Prescriptions are dispensed free of charge in other UK countries.

Pharmacists are trained experts in the use of medicines. The specialist pharmacist at your HIV clinic is an important person in your HIV care, but your local pharmacist can also play a useful role in helping you stay well. They can give advice on the safe use of prescription and over-the-counter medicines. A pharmacist should ask you what medicines you are taking when they dispense a prescription or when you buy over-the-counter medication, because of the risk of interactions with anti-HIV drugs or other medication you may be on.

Pharmacists can give you advice on dealing with common conditions, such as colds and flu, urinary tract infections, mild skin conditions and hay fever. Some pharmacies also run ‘minor ailment’ services that deal with certain common health problems. You don’t need an appointment to go to one of these, and it may save a trip to your GP. They will tell you if they think you should see your GP or seek other medical advice. Pharmacists can sell you remedies for some of these conditions over the counter, without a prescription from a doctor.

If you are worried about people knowing that you have HIV and don’t want to give the names of your medicines to the pharmacist in a public place, it might be helpful to remember that most people won’t recognise the names of anti-HIV drugs. You could ask to talk to the pharmacist in a private area (often a pharmacy will have a private consulting room) or you could write down the names of the medicines you are taking and hand this information to the pharmacist.

It can be hard to maintain your confidentiality at a high-street pharmacy counter, so if you do need over-the-counter medicines on a regular basis it might be wise to discuss this with your GP, HIV doctor or specialist HIV pharmacist. They may be able to prescribe them.

Pharmacies sell pregnancy tests and emergency contraception (the ‘morning after’ pill, Levonelle). Some will provide the latter free of charge. Some anti-HIV drugs can interfere with the way this pill works. It’s important that you tell the pharmacist if you are on HIV treatment, as you may need to take twice the normal dose of Levonelle.

Pharmacies can offer healthy lifestyle advice, covering areas such as diet and nutrition, exercise and stopping smoking. They can also discuss management of long-term conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure. Some pharmacies offer clinics in these areas, and services to help people give up smoking.

Many pharmacies have long opening hours and are open at weekends, so can be a convenient place to start when seeking advice for common conditions.

HIV, GPs & other primary care

Published October 2012

Last reviewed October 2012

Next review October 2014

Contact NAM to find out more about the scientific research and information used to produce this booklet.

This content was checked for accuracy at the time it was written. It may have been superseded by more recent developments. NAM recommends checking whether this is the most current information when making decisions that may affect your health.