Interactions between parents/carers of pre-school children and pharmacy staff when buying non-prescription medicines

  • Helen F. Boardman
  • Nicola J. GrayEmail author
  • B. Sue Symonds
Research Article



Little is known about the interactions between pharmacy staff and parents/carers who buy nonprescription medicines for children. Responsibility for choice and administration of children’s medicines falls to the parent/carer. Pharmacy advice should support safe and effective use of medicines for children. This paper explores the interactions between pharmacy staff and purchasers of children’s medicines, in terms of questioning and advice giving.


Thirty-nine community pharmacies across four Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) in England.


A self-completion survey and a subset of semi-structured telephone interviews were undertaken with parents/carers buying oral medicines for children aged 0–4 years.

Main outcome measure

Frequency and type of questioning and advice given by pharmacy staff to parents purchasing nonprescription medicines.


One hundred and thirty-four surveys and thirty-four interviews were completed: most participants were 25–44 year-old women. The majority (85%) reported being questioned, most often by medicines counter assistants, to establish the safety and suitability of the medicine. Three key questions (whether the medicine had been used before, the age of the child, and concurrent medicines), however, were not always asked. Interviews revealed self-perceptions of ‘expert’ and ‘novice’ users, depending on experience with the medicine purchased. This seemed to affect their perception of their need for questioning and advice from pharmacy staff.


Interactions in the pharmacy involving the purchase of medicines for young children are varied with regard to questioning and advice given. This study has found that key questions are not always asked before a medicine is sold, and advice about using the medicine was given in just over one-third of encounters. Parents/carers also identified a range of additional information they would like to have received with their medicine: there was, however, no clear pattern to the type of information they would like. Parents reflected on the questioning and advice in terms of their self-perception of expertise with the medicine. Both pharmacists and their assistants should adopt a flexible questioning approach based on parents/carers’ advice and information needs that respects expertise, but does not assume it.


Advice giving Children United Kingdom Expertise Non-prescription medicines Parents and carers Pharmacy staff Self-completion questionnaire Telephone interviews 



We thank the pharmacists and pharmacy staff for their assistance with this study. We thank the medicine purchasers who participated in the study. We thank the project advisory board for their time and valuable comments throughout the project: Stephanie Bridges, Sharon Conroy, Karen Neil, Simon Royal and Suzan Smallman.


This study was funded by the University of Nottingham New Lecturers’ Fund.

Conflicts of interest

The authors have no conflicts of interest to declare.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Helen F. Boardman
    • 1
  • Nicola J. Gray
    • 2
    Email author
  • B. Sue Symonds
    • 1
  1. 1.School of PharmacyUniversity of NottinghamNottinghamUK
  2. 2.School of Pharmacy and Biomedical SciencesUniversity of Central LancashirePreston, LancashireUK

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