Pharmacies should be allowed to do more to tackle the obesity crisis, experts said after they found most people in the UK live within easy walking distance of a chemist.
Even those living in deprived areas have decent access to community pharmacies, a study by Durham University academics has found.
With no need for an appointment and an informal setting, pharmacies are able to support the role of under-pressure GPs, they said.
Their findings went against the often-quoted “inverse care law”, which states good medical facilities are most available to those who need them least.
The study, published in the BMJ Open, calls on local pharmacies to be enabled to do more to tackle major health concerns such as obesity, excess drinking and smoking.
“The role of the community pharmacist has changed significantly in recent years”
According to the research, almost nine out of 10 people live within a 20-minute walk of a community pharmacy. Access in areas of highest deprivation was even greater with almost 100% of households living within walking distance.
Lead author, Dr Adam Todd from Durham University’s school of medicine, pharmacy and health, said: “The role of the community pharmacist has changed significantly in recent years and there is now more focus on delivering public health services, such as promoting healthy lifestyles and modification of health-related behaviours.
“However, these results show that pharmacies are well-placed in the community to deliver public health services.
“This is particularly important for the poorest areas where more people die from conditions such as smoking, alcohol misuse and obesity compared to people from more affluent areas.
“With easy access without patients needing to make an appointment, the results suggest there is potential for community pharmacies to deliver public health interventions to areas which need it most.”
Louise Lyndon, managing director of an award-winning pharmacy chain in the North East, said: “We follow the ethos of ‘every contact is a health opportunity’ and we openly ask patients about their smoking habits and conduct brief alcohol interventions and perform health checks on an ad hoc basis.
“This is an excellent way to engage with patients as we find appointment systems are often too formal and have high non-attendance for health promotion type interventions,” she said.
“Community pharmacies are an accessible option for patients, with a health professional available to discuss any issues without needing to book an appointment, which is a real opportunity for community pharmacies,” she added.