A new campaign to increase awareness of the pharmacy service aims to take pressure off GPs and A&E departments.

The launch of Dispensing Health follows a poll showing that less than half of adults (48 per cent) know pharmacists can advise on minor ailments, treatment for which reportedly costs the NHS £2bn annually.

This lack of awareness is addressed in Pharmacy Voice’s Who Do You Think We Are? paper, published on 15 January to mark the start of the new two-year awareness campaign.

The YouGov survey also shows that less than one-third (31 per cent) know pharmacists can advise on living healthily.

Dispensing Health not only aims to promote greater understanding of the role pharmacies can play in supporting public health, it also asks patients, health professionals and political parties to back its call for a raft of recognitions by May next year.

These include seeing pharmacies as dispensers of health and gateways for good health, while GPs are seen as a gateway for managing ill health.

The campaign also wants the UK’s 13,000 community pharmacies to be included alongside GPs as a solution to the pressures on A&E and actively promoted as the starting point to advise on and treat common ailments.

Pharmacy Voice chief executive Robert Darracott said pharmacies do so much more than dispense medicine.

Michael Dixon, the NHS Alliance’s chair and member of the national Self Care Forum, said people can “no longer use the NHS like a sweet shop that’s open all hours”.