It takes five years of training to become a fully-qualified pharmacist so there is clearly much more to the job than dishing out paracetomol and plasters.

In fact, they can offer essential advice, information and support about a wide range of minor illnesses and injuries.

This means many people can get the basic treatment they need without having to make an appointment to see their GP which, in turn, eases the pressure on busy doctors' surgeries.

Pharmacists say they are relishing their changing role which is moving away from the traditional image of sitting at the back of a store mixing pills and potions.

Instead, as more people come forward looking for help about what medicine or treatment to buy, the pharmacist is providing that information.

They say they are not looking to take over a doctor's role but offer a service that can complement what they do and give the patient more choice.

Many local pharmacists build up a good relationship with regular customers.

Ramiz Bahnam, based at Watts and Co in Brighton, says this is an important part of the job.

He said: "It is not just about giving out the medicine. It is about getting to know people and giving them help and advice.

"Community pharmacies are an important part of a local area."

The role of the pharmacist is also expanding to provide other services traditionally dealt with by GPs or local clinics.

This includes heart and blood pressure tests and provision of the morning after pill for teenagers free of charge.

Other services include delivering prescriptions directly to the homes of those patients who find it difficult to get out themselves.

Leaflets offering information on a range of subjects including asthma, allergies and basic first aid are usually available in pharmacies.

Health experts are also encouraging people to use their local pharmacist to ensure they have a stock of basic medicines and supplies in their own home.

These could include paracetamol, ibuprofen or aspirin, indigestion tablets, medicine for stomach upsets, plasters, bandages, a thermometer, safety pins, scissors and tweezers.

Sallyanne Bowen, a senior pharmacist at Lloyds Pharmacy in Durrington, Worthing, warns there is not a great deal of point going to the doctor with a cough or a cold unless a patient has a history of serious problems or is particularly vulnerable.

When a person has a streaming nose they lose a lot of fluid, leaving them dehydrated. This is part of the reason they feel so ill.

Taking plenty of fluids and a painkiller can make all the difference.

Anyone taking a cold remedy to help a blocked nose or stop a cough, should check the list of ingredients.

Many remedies contain a painkiller, such as paracetamol, and there have been cases of people overdosing unknowingly by taking combinations of cold remedies and painkillers.

Some cold remedies should not be taken by particular people.

Check with your pharmacist before taking anything if you suffer from high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes.

A cough is the most common symptom presented to the doctor. Pharmacists can help provide the right treatment.

A dry, tickly cough without phlegm, which is more of a nuisance than a serious problem, can be helped by steam inhalation, or a cough suppressant if the cough is keeping someone awake at night.

A tight, chesty cough should not be treated with a suppressant as this could do more harm than good.

A good cough mixture containing an expectorant is usually recommended.

If a cough continues for more than two weeks or produces a lot of yellow or green phlegm, it might be a sign of a chest infection and you should consult your GP.

Further advice and information about health concerns is available by ringing the NHS Direct helpline on 0845 4647.