PEOPLE on low incomes can now receive free medicine for minor ailments.

Pharmacies in Braintree and Witham have signed up to the scheme, which will allow eligible patients to have free, over the counter medicine for conditions such as coughs, mouth ulcers, dermatitis and hayfever.

NHS Mid Essex, the primary care trust behind the scheme, has budgeted £20,000 to bear the costs in 2009/10.

The trust's chief pharmacist, Paula Wilkinson, said: "The need to buy medicines could discourage people with low income from self-treating for minor ailments.

"We are committed to ensuring that families with low-income have access to the required medicines from community pharmacies, without the need to visit their GP for a prescription. I am very pleased that pharmacists are wholeheartedly participating in the scheme."

One of those taking part is Borno's chemist in Newland Street, Witham.

Pharmacist Asim Mirza said: “It’s great that people on low incomes can now get treated at the pharmacy free of charge for simple ailments like coughs and sore throats without having to visit the doctor.

"This adds to our comprehensive list of services available to the public, such as our free medicines check up service."

The scheme has been used elsewhere, including Southend, and it is anticipated it will be rolled out nationally, as outlined in the government's Pharmacy White Paper.

The aim is to reduce the number of people who are visiting their GP or accident and emergency departments for minor conditions that do not require prescription-only medicine.

Archana Sharma, spokesman for NHS Mid Essex, said eight per cent of patients visiting accident and emergency departments across the country have minor ailments that could have been dealt with by a community pharmacy.

People claiming free medicines will be asked to prove they are on a low income to prevent abuse of the scheme.

Patients who are exempt from prescription charges on grounds other than low income, such as age or medical condition, will not be eligible for this scheme but can still get free advice.

Pharmacists will also stock advice cards but will refer patients to a GP if necessary.

To get Income Support, you must either not be working at all or work less than 16 hours a week. If you have a partner who lives with you, your partner must work under 24 hours a week. If they work for 24 hours or more, you won’t be able to get Income Support. If your partner is claiming income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance or income-related Employment and Support Allowance, this will also prevent you getting Income Support.

Pharmacies taking part in the scheme will display a window sticker.