WORRIES about alcohol consumption or help with minor ailments would normally merit a visit to the doctor.

But pharmacies across Bolton have adopted a scheme to become the first point of call for residents with health concerns.

Twenty-six pharmacies in the borough are working towards Healthy Living Pharmacy status by training staff to become health trainer champions.

The £10,000 scheme, funded by NHS Bolton, mirrors a project launched by NHS Portsmouth three years ago to clamp down on health inequalities and promote healthy living and advice over the counter.

It involves staff undergoing additional training and pharmacies demonstrating their commitment to delivering wellbeing services to the community.

Success will result in health trainer champions securing a Royal Society of Public Health qualification and pharmacists undergoing leadership training.

Imran Bana, pharmacy manager of Gatley Ltd in Tonge Moor Road, Tonge Moor, one of the stores working towards the qualification, said: “We are now having more contact with customers.

If they want to ask questions I can answer them and we can do medication reviews and check people are taking medication correctly — if they are not I can pick up on it.

“One woman’s medication was not consistent with her condition and I helped to get it changed. It has made her life better. We are now able to offer flu vaccinations to people under 65 and can do it when they walk in, we can give the morningafter pill for free and offer chlamydia testing. We also offer a needle exchange for drug users.”

Different awareness campaigns are on display throughout the year as part of the qualification.

Gatley pharmacy attached the number of units to different alcohol drinks and displayed the bottles near to the counter.

Another campaign highlighted the dangers of smoking by showing people how much tar would be deposited in your lungs by smoking 20 cigarettes a day for two months.

Campaigns on improving stroke awareness, learning how to spot the signs of cancer and staying safe for summer are planned for next year.

Beverley Lowe, health trainer champion at the pharmacy, said: “People have been shocked seeing the number of alcohol units next to the bottles on the display and have said they didn’t realise they were drinking so much.

The campaigns certainly make people more aware.”

She said one customer raised concerns about family members’ drinking habits and she was signposted to where she could get advice.

Louise Gatley, Local Pharmaceutical Committees community secretary for Bolton, said: “Healthy Living Pharmacies are about promoting self-care.

For example, if someone has hay fever and they are in a rush, they don’t need to go to their GP as at the first point of call.”

Lesley Jones, deputy director of public health, added: “Community pharmacies are well placed to play a key role in supporting health improvement.

“Thousands of people visit them every day, and they can offer help with prevention, early identification of conditions and promotion of selfcare — which are key to staying healthy.”