Pharmacists play vital role in protecting people’s lung health

By Rachael Hodges

More than 1.6 million people visit a community pharmacy each day, providing a huge opportunity for pharmacists to help people quit smoking and protect their lung health. We’d love to see community pharmacists playing a bigger role within their local health systems to support people at risk of or living with a lung condition.

Many pharmacists are already playing a key part in smoking cessation. We’d suggest community pharmacists refresh their knowledge on the stop smoking products available and top tips on how to use them.

We know what works for one person may not work for another, so it is important pharmacists are aware of the menu of quitting options available and can advise someone on what else there is to try.

For pharmacists looking for information, we’d suggest using our website ( which breaks down stop smoking tools and how they work. It also includes tips for people using these products; such as combining two types of nicotine replacement therapy.

Usually, this means a patch to provide a background level of NRT and a faster-acting product, such as gum, inhalator or nasal spray for them to use when they get cravings. NRT is usually used for eight to 12 weeks before gradually reducing the dose and stopping.

It’s not just treatment and medication that’s important, but also face-to-face support. People are about three times more likely to stop smoking successfully if they use a combination of specialist help and advice from a healthcare professional or a specialist advisor alongside their chosen stop smoking treatment.

Smoking is an incredibly hard addiction to quit and it can take many attempts to stop which is why help from a local pharmacist can be vital in supporting people until they stop for good.

We’d recommend all pharmacists get specialist training in smoking cessation. Ask around to fi nd out what’s available locally or use some of the NHS England recommended sites available online.

Once you have received specialist training, we’d suggest making the most of and becoming champions for local and national stop smoking campaigns. Promoting big public health campaigns, such as Stoptober, can be a great way to open up the conversation about quitting smoking with customers.

The introduction of the Healthy Living Pharmacy (HLP) accreditation next year, should be a good way for pharmacies in England to support public health campaigns, as pharmacies must have at least one qualified health champion and hold regular health promotion events or campaigns. We encourage putting in place systems to make sure all patients are being asked about their smoking status and offered advice wherever appropriate.

Key times include when people are buying repeat products including cough medicine.

This could be a sign they are suffering symptoms of a lung condition. This conversation can also be had when people with longterm conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, pick up prescriptions or during medicine use reviews.

When someone picks up a stop smoking prescription, there is also an opportunity to ask whether they need any additional support or have any questions about using the medication.

Smoking cessation is not the only way pharmacists can help people look after their lungs. For people living with a lung condition, their local pharmacy can be the first port of call for advice.

Community pharmacists are accessible to many patients in a more flexible and responsive way than GP practices, as there is no need for an appointment. Making it easier for people to walk in and seek advice as soon as they need it, for example during a flare-up of symptoms.

For some people their local pharmacy is also the closest to them. For people with lung conditions, for whom even a short walk can make them feel breathless, having help nearby makes a huge difference.

Not only can pharmacists pick up on the warning signs of lung disease, such as a persistent cough, they can also support people with lung conditions to keep well.

Lots of people visit their local pharmacy for their annual flu jab. For someone living with a lung condition, flu can have a serious impact on their health and even result in a hospital stay.

It is important pharmacists discuss the flu jab with people who have a long-term illness or who are over 65 and so are eligible for free vaccination.

Pharmacists can also do inhaler technique checks which is vital for people who take their medication through an inhaler such as those with asthma. This can be discussed when people pick up their inhalers. The UK Inhaler Group has resources for health care professionals to show how to get the technique right.

Community pharmacists can also offer general advice when people collect their medicines or when they do medicines reviews to check people know what to do if their asthma gets worse and in the event of an asthma attack.

Pharmacists provide an excellent support system for people living with lung conditions and play a vital role in protecting people’s lung health.

We hope all pharmacists across the country are trained and supported to fulfil this role as best as possible.

Rachael Hodges is a senior policy officer at British Lung Foundation

This article also appears in the December/January issue of Pharmacy Business.

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