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Can we make a personal injury claim following self-treatment?

There are more drugs available over the counter at our local pharmacy than ever before. This could be set to rise and with it the amount of resulting personal injury claims. It has been revealed that increasing the availability of over-the-counter medicines (OTCs) even further will help to relieve GPs of many of the 300,000 consultations for minor complaints that they currently conduct in the UK on a daily basis.

This means that although some pressure will be taken off of our ever-busy GPs, we will rely more heavily on our pharmacist for advice and this will have a number of implications.

Firstly, if you thought that submitting your prescription into the chemist, having it administered and signed off ready for collection all in your lunch hour is a rare feat now, you just wait!

Secondly, while pharmacists are experts in medicine, they may have to undergo additional training to prepare them for the onslaught of confused customers coming their way.

Thirdly, pharmacists will have an even bigger responsibility to the public and the slightest mistake could end up in a personal injury claim being made against them.

OTC top ten
We buy 860 million packs of OTCs every year including ibuprofen, aspirin, codeine and paracetamol for pain relief; emergency contraception; topical steroids and dermatitis creams for dry skin conditions; and statins to reduce the risk of heart attacks. The top ten conditions that we are most likely to take OTCs for are:

A patient's responsibility
Potentially, if you choose to self-medicate then any personal injuries that you sustain as a result of your drug use could be considered your own fault and you may be unable to make a personal injury claim.

This is why it is absolutely essential that you raise your own awareness of any medication that you are thinking about taking. Make sure that you are aware of any possible side-effects and ask your friends and family if they have had any experiences with or adverse reactions to the same drugs. You could also consider carrying out some research on the internet.

It is always your responsibility to read the packaging and any leaflets that it contains before taking drugs. You should never exceed the stated dose without talking to your doctor first and you should ask your pharmacist or doctor if there is anything that you are not sure about.

A pharmacist's responsibility
A pharmacist's role includes recommending medicines that might be suitable for the symptoms that a customer may be experiencing and giving advice and consultation about the medicine that their customers are interested in purchasing. They may ask you questions such as "Have you taken this medicine before?" or "Are you taking any other medication?". Even taking vitamins or herbal remedies could affect other medicines.

It is also down to your pharmacist to reduce risk of personal injury to their customers by only allowing them to buy a limited amount of drugs over the counter. For example, drugs such as paracetamol which may be used by those who wish to take an overdose could cause serious personal injuries such as acute liver failure and death.

Legislation came into force in 1998 that limited the maximum pack size of solid doses of paracetamol and aspirin for general sale to 16 tablets or capsules and for sale from a pharmacist to 32 capsules. The sale of 100 tablets or capsules at any one time is also prohibited without a doctor's prescription.

The risks
There is risk involved in the fact that the easier it is to buy OTCs in any quantity, the easier it is to form an addiction. Specifically, opiods such as codeine are a highly addictive drug found in common headache pills and cough medicines and addictions to such drugs affect 30,000 people every year.

Also, when you are prescribed medication by your doctor they will monitor the amount of time for which you take that particular medication. However, if we begin to rely more and more on OTCs your regular GP will be unable to monitor for how long you are taking a particular drug. This means that drugs, such as ibuprofen, may be taken long-term and cause such side effects as internal bleeding and kidney damage.

If, however, your pharmacist gives you incorrect advice you could end up having a reaction to the drugs or they could affect an existing illness. For instance, aspirin and paracetamol can aggravate asthma symptoms and even trigger an attack.

Just like you could make a medical negligence claim against a doctor if they misdiagnose you, you may be able to make a personal injury claim against your pharmacist if they provide incorrect advice that leads to you sustaining a personal injury. You should contact a personal injury solicitor to find out if you are entitled to make a personal injury claim.