You see the distinctive green cross of the farmacia (chemists) dotted around the towns and suburbs of Spain. Pharmacies in Spain offer perhaps more than you would expect and function in ways you might not be used to.
Pharmacies in Spain
Whether it is for the occasional pain killer or for a regular, essential medication, chances are that you will need to visit a farmacia in Spain at some point. The good news is that usually this is an excellent, well-organised and easily accessible service. However, there are differences between the way pharmacies in Spain function and what you might be used to.
Pharmacies in Spain stocks a wide variety of non-prescription medicines on their shelves as well as health and beauty products. Some items that you could obtain more widely in other countries are only available from there. For example, you cannot buy painkillers in the supermarkets and there is no equivalent to Boots.
Of course, they will also provide the medication prescribed by your doctor.
Obtaining your prescription
You’ve been to the doctors and are equipped with a large A4 piece of paper that you believe includes the details of your prescription. What now? The process of collecting your medication is organised electronically with the information processed via a bar code.
It is important to take your SIP card with you as this provides the information needed to calculate how much you have to pay. If you have forgotten your SIP it is possible for the pharmacist to enter your number manually but this can only take place once and if you try again your SIP card will be blocked. You can also collect a prescription for someone else, provided you have their SIP card with you.
Charges vary according to how much you earn. Most people who are working will be charged 40% of the total cost but pensioners are charged less at 10%. Pensioners are also only required to pay up to a maximum of €8.23 a month. Once you have reached this threshold the wonders of technology should mean that your next prescription is free.
Some medication has a reduced cost. This includes essential medication such as that for diabetes and drugs in this category are indicated by a dot on the box. Some items are completely free. For example if you are prescribed nutritious drinks to build your strength there may be no charge for these at all.
Your prescription includes a lot of detail and not only about the medication you have just been prescribed. At the top of your A4 paper you will see that there is a table. This shows when you are eligible to pick up your medication across the year and covers repeat prescriptions as well as single issue ones. You have ten days from that indicated to collect your medication or it will be cancelled. If this happens, don’t be angry with the chemist as there is nothing they can do about it.
Chemists generally follow the usual Spanish opening times. However, there will be an emergency 24 hour farmacia somewhere locally. There is a notice posted on the door of every farmacia that will tell you where the 24 hour service is available. All hospitals contain their own chemists. They dispense the medication used within the hospital but also, sometimes, more expensive medication for specific treatments such as arthritis and cancer. You will have to visit the hospital to receive these but can use them as an outpatient rather than being admitted.
What other services pharmacies in Spain offer?
At your local farmacia you can have your sugar and cholesterol tested and take the triglyceride test. Some pharmacies in Spain also have their own laboratory and can make up special medication. However, don’t worry if your local chemist can’t do this as they will order the prescription for you.
What many people appreciate about chemists in Spain is that they will give you advice and are used to handling queries. There should be a pharmacist on site but the pharmaceutical assistants can also be very knowledgeable and will be happy to indicate a medication that might be suitable or urge you to go to the doctors if necessary. However, please remember they are not doctors. Do not expect them to give you an in-depth diagnosis.
If you find you have amassed a lot of unused medication then you can return it to your local chemist. They will have a “punto sigre” where out of date drugs are returned to be disposed of. If the medication is still in date then you should indicate this to the chemist. There are schemes aimed at supplying medication to countries where it is needed and/or people who are not eligible for medication in Spain itself.
It is likely that there will be several farmacias within reach that you could choose from. Use one you feel comfortable with, where you are understood and where you feel able to ask questions. Most pharmacists are only too happy to help and it is a service that Spain can be proud of.