PHARMACISTS are ‘willing and ready’ to provide a wider range of health services in East Lancashire, but said patients are often unaware of their ability to help.

This week, the English Pharmacy Board said the sector had ‘huge potential’ to offer more advice and help for patients, because of their excellent reach into communities.

It comes after a study by Durham University suggested 89 per cent of the population live within a 20-minute walk of a pharmacy.

There has already been a drive to boost the role of phamacies over the last decade, with many now offering services such as blood tests, quit smoking advice and the morning after pill, but many appear to be under-used.

Maqsud Patel, of Whalley Range Pharmacy in Blackburn, said: “We are more than happy to offer more services and I think it’s excellent that it’s being looked at. Our roles have always been increasing - at one time we would close quite early and we were one of the first in Blackburn to be open 100 hours per week. We’re now open 365-days-a-year as well.

“I think our services are under-utilised but we are constantly trying to promote them and get the message out to the public that we can help them with many minor illnesses.”

NHS England has already called for more involvement in delivering care, with a review last year suggesting up to a fifth of GP appointments could be dealt with by pharmacies or through better self-care.

A pharmacist in Nelson, who asked not to be named, said: “I think it’s the public perception that needs to be addressed, because there are all sorts of schemes already in place for us to deal with minor ailments. It can depend on the area and whether the doctors surgeries actively promote the local pharmacies.”

However, Khurm Azad, of HBS Pharmacy at Barabara Castle Way Health Centre in Blackburn, said: “There’s room for improvement but we are definitely moving in the right direction. The NHS in East Lancashire and Blackburn are actively promoting pharmacies to be more active and as a result many more patients come to pharmacies instead of seeing their GPs.”