Millions of people of all ages, but particularly those in older age groups, take regular medication. Many others are prescribed medication by their doctor when they have an ailment.
Research in the UK shows that 80% of people over 75 take at least one prescribed medicine and 36% of over 75s take four or more. We also know that confusion about medicines can lead to inappropriate use of them and be potentially dangerous to patients and costly to the NHS. It's estimated that as many as 50% of older people may not be taking their medicines as they should.
When you take medication on a long term basis and as you get older, understanding what your medicine is for and how it works and knowing how to make it work best for you is important.
Pharmacists are well qualified medicines experts who can answer questions and offer a lot of help and advice on how to get the most out of medicines, how to take them safely and what questions to put to your doctor if you feel that things are not going too well.
Making the local pharmacy your first port of call when you have questions or problems with your medication makes sense because it's close to home, it's quick, there's no need for an appointment and the pharmacist knows a lot about illnesses and has first class knowledge of medicines.
Antibiotics - Don't wear me out
Antibiotics are important medicines. They help you fight infections that are caused by bacteria. So we need to look after them.
Why is this important?
Because bacteria are clever - they adapt and find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become 'antibiotic resistant' so that the antibiotic no longer works. The more we use an antibiotic, the more likely it is that bacteria will become resistant to it.
So what does this mean?
Put bluntly, it means that antibiotics are becoming less effective at fighting infections.
Surely there are plenty of other antibiotics that can be used instead?
Well, up to now, yes - but they may not be as effective, and they may have more side-effects. And eventually the bacteria will become resistant to them, too.
Why is antibiotic resistance a problem now?
First, antibiotic resistance is increasing among bacteria. Some, such as MRSA are resistant to several antibiotics - they are 'multidrug resistant'. Second, we cannot be sure we will always be able to find new antibiotics to replace the old ones. In recent years fewer new antibiotics have been discovered.
So what can we do?
We can't stop resistance occuring, but we can do a lot to slow it down and stop it spreading. We must look after the antibiotics we have by using them carefully.
How can we do that?
By not taking antibiotics when we don't need them. We now know that many infections get better just as quickly without antibiotics. In fact, antibiotics don't work against viruses. Remember, antibiotics are not always the answer.
My children are always getting infections. What should I do?
Children do get frequent coughs and colds. This is normal, especially when they start to mix with other children. Ask your pharmacist for advice. If you are particularly concerned, do still go to your doctor, but don't necessarily expect an antibiotic to be prescribed. Your doctor may suggest an alternative treatment to help relieve their symptoms.
So when are antibiotics the answer? When might I need an antibiotic?
Your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic when you need one, for example, for a kidney infection or pneumonia. Antibiotics may be lifesaving for infections such as meningitis. By not using them unnecessarily, they are more likely to work when we need them.
If I am prescribed antibiotics, should I stop taking them as soon as I begin to feel better?
No. Take them as prescribed and finish the course, unless your doctor or pharmacist advises otherwise. Antibiotic resistance is more likely to develop if antibiotics are taken intermittently, for example, just when you remember, or in too low a dose.
Do not expect your doctor to prescribe antibiotics for colds, or for most coughs and sore throats. All colds, and most coughs and sore throats, are caused by viruses, so an antibiotic won't help. There are usually remedies you can take to help relieve the symptoms - ask your pharmacist for advice.
Further information can be found on the following websites:
The information on this page is taken from a leaflet which is available free from The Department of Health, PO Box 777, London SE1 6XH.
Ask about your medicines
The important questions are:
For more information, visit www.askaboutmedicines.org
Exemption from prescription charges for cancer patients
The Prime Minister announced in September 2008 that cancer patients would be entitled to exemption from prescription charges. The exemption from prescription charges for patients undergoing treatment for cancer, including the effects of cancer, or the effect of current or previous cancer treatment, came into effect on 1 April 2009.
Guidance has been prepared by the Department of Health that explains the new arrangements in detail. This defines, for example, the terms "cancer" and "treatment for cancer". The guidance can be viewed on the Department of Health's website at http://www.dh.gov.uk/prescriptionchargesreview.