Pharmacists in Primary Care

Pharmacists in primary care play a significant part in managing medicines. They have a strategic role to focus on maximising benefit and minimising risk associated with medicines as well as making the best use of resources allocated for medicines. 

Primary care pharmacists work in the local community supporting GPs, nurses, community pharmacists and other healthcare professionals. The level of patient contact varies depending on your role. You will play a significant role in the management of medicines use, and will be involved in developing services for the local population, implementing national health priorities at a local level, arranging funding and access to health services and designing treatment pathways. You will also be involved in conducting audits and research.

Medicines are the most common treatments offered to NHS patients. A pharmacist is an expert in medicines and their use. Their knowledge of medicines and the effect they have on the human body is critical for the successful management of every type of medical condition.


  • advise other healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses, on how to choose medicines and use them correctly
  • ensure that new medicines are safe to use with other medication
  • advise on dosage and suggest the most appropriate form of medication such as tablet, injection, ointment or inhaler
  • make sure that patients use their medicines safely
  • provide information to patients on how get the maximum benefit from the medicines they are prescribed
  • advise on the most effective treatments for a particular condition including those for sale without prescription
  • help patients manage long term conditions
  • recommend changes to prescriptions and give advice on prescribing
  • provide information about potential side effects
  • monitor the effects of treatment to ensure that it is safe and effective

Pharmacists are also involved in manufacturing medicines when ready-made preparations are not available. For example, certain cancer treatments and intravenous feeding solutions need to be tailor made under sterile conditions for individual patients.

Pharmacists work as part of healthcare teams in hospitals or community pharmacies. Some work in retail pharmacies in supermarkets or on the high street, or for other employers that provide NHS services. Community pharmacists are based in health centres or pharmacies but they may spend time visiting patients at home or in residential homes.

Pharmacists may also supervise pharmacy technician and pharmacy assistants in purchasing, quality testing or dispensing medicines.

The Professional development roadmap produced by the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) outlines the elements of career progression for pharmacy professionals, taking into account the changing healthcare landscape.

It describes career pathways and also the support, development needs, and the methods for assessment from day one as a student to the time of retirement from the profession.

The RPS Professional development roadmap defines career pathways for pharmacy professionals that are nationally applicable and address the objective for patients and their families in Great Britain to have access to excellent pharmaceutical care

Download The RPS Roadmap: An overview

Download The Roadmap to Advanced Practice

This NICE guideline covers how community pharmacies can help maintain and improve people’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, including people with a long-term condition. It aims to encourage more people to use community pharmacies by integrating them within existing health and care pathways and ensuring they offer standard services and a consistent approach. It requires a collaborative approach from individual pharmacies and their representatives, local authorities and other commissioners.

View Community pharmacies: promoting health and wellbeing

This guideline includes recommendations on:

Once qualified, many pharmacists join the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). Registered pharmacists have to keep their skills and knowledge up to date with annual continuing professional development (CPD). The RPS runs courses, conferences and seminars where pharmacists can exchange ideas and update their skills.

Experienced pharmacists can do additional training and qualifications to allow them to prescribe medicines.

Career Planning for Healthcare Professionals programme

Health Education England has developed an e-learning programme for healthcare professionals including pre-registration / foundation pharmacists, to help them make informed career choices and effective applications for their next career steps.

Find out more about the programme

The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Foundation Pharmacist Framework has been produced as a result of a collaborative exercise to investigate the roles of Foundation Pharmacists both currently and over the next five years.

Download the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Foundation Pharmacist Framework

The framework will inform the development of the curriculum and national assessment for Foundation Pharmacists.

The framework has been designed to align with the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Advanced Pharmacy Framework, supporting seamless career development through Foundation to Advanced stages.

  • The Royal Pharmaceutical Society Foundation Pharmacist Framework will be used as the springboard for developing a UK Foundation Pharmacist curriculum
  • The curriculum will place patient safety and service needs at its heart and define the expected knowledge, levels of performance, as well as the breadth of experience required to meet the learning outcomes of Foundation Training
  • The curriculum will be designed for training providers to develop the knowledge, skills and behaviours in pharmacists so they can demonstrate the capabilities defined in the RPS Foundation Pharmacist Framework
  • A UK team will work together to utilise existing curricula and to identify existing good practice in curriculum development. A new UK curriculum will be developed by summer 2020 and will inform the design and delivery of future foundation programmes across the UK.

You may choose to specialise in a particular area of practice such as mental health, oncology or paediatrics. Teaching or research are also options. Some pharmacists move into areas such as the regulation of medicines, veterinary pharmacy or into industry.

You could also move into management, either within pharmacy or general management. As head of a local pharmacy service you would be responsible both for a team of staff and for managing a budget.

Some pharmacists decide to set up their own pharmacies in high street shops, either working on their own or with other professionals.