The NHS minor ailments scheme is designed to allow patients to seek advice and treatment for minor ailments without seeing a Doctor.
According to the official NHS website the minor ailment scheme is designed to enable people with minor health conditions to access medicines and advice they would otherwise visit their doctor for.
The scheme allows patients to see a qualified health professional at a convenient and accessible location within their community, and means patients do not need to wait for a GP appointment or queue up for a valuable A&E slot with a non-urgent condition.
Some pharmacists are able to offer treatment under the scheme for ailments that wouldn't require assessment by a doctor. These include complains such as a cough, colds, diarrhoea, earache, hay fever, head lice, nappy rash, sore throats and teething.
However, despite recent social media coverage the scheme isn't available in all areas and doesn't simply provide 'free Calpol and plasters'.
Generic, unbranded, medicines will be provided when pharmacists deem they are appropriate for a specific condition - parents can't simply walk into a pharmacy a request a supply for a specific medication or treatment.
There are a number of important points that have not been made clear:
- The minor ailment scheme is not a national scheme. It is not possible to say exactly which medical conditions are covered because this will vary depending on the location and the particular service.
- The scheme is designed to offer medication to meet an acute need. It is not an opportunity for parents to stock up on free children's medications – if a pharmacist thinks someone is trying to abuse the system, they can refuse any request for treatment at their discretion.
- The pharmacist has no obligation to provide branded medication such as Calpol. If there is a cheaper generic version available that is known to be equally effective, it is likely that will be provided instead.
- Claims that the scheme is secretive are incorrect. Information about the minor ailment scheme has been freely available on the NHS Choices website since 2008.
Neal Patel, from the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, says people shouldn't get carried away.
"You can't just walk into a pharmacy and stock up on Calpol for your kids. That's not the way it works."
Items provided under the minor ailments scheme are only provided free of charge if the patient is exempt from paying prescription charges.