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Seeing the GP: Advice and tips for young people

Using chemists and pharmacies

Here, people talk about their experiences of using pharmacy services, either at the local chemist or in supermarket pharmacies, including:

•    what can a pharmacist or chemist help with?
•    what pharmacists do
•    getting to the chemist
•    paying for prescriptions

What can a pharmacist or chemist help with?
Pharmacists can recognise many common health problems and minor injuries, including aches and pains, coughs and colds, skin rashes, thrush, cystitis, mild eczema, and athlete’s foot. They can give advice and, if appropriate, medicines that will help clear up the problem. These medicines won’t be on prescription – they’ll be ‘over-the-counter’ treatments so have to be paid for. Pharmacists can also sell pregnancy tests and emergency contraception (the morning after pill).
 

Simon has been to the chemist for colds and sore throats and bought over-the-counter remedies. For more serious issues, such as his juvenile arthritis or Crohn’s, he goes to the GP.

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Are there situations where you would go to a pharmacist first at all rather than a doctor?

I guess if, you know, if you’ve got like a runny nose or a cold, then it doesn’t make sense to go to the GP because, you know, if it’s a virus, there’s nothing they can do. Whereas, you know, the pharmacy you have got different types of medications over the counter. 

So I have gone to the pharmacist if I’ve got a bit of a sore throat and I just want to nip it in the bud really. But in terms of going to them with my long term condition, I haven’t really. Just because I feel more confident in a GP being able to help me or going to the specialist to help me really. 
 

Lara’s had problems with mouth ulcers before. If she had them again, she’d go to the pharmacy first. If she needed a prescription, she’d go to the GP.

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And if you had this recurring problem with the ulcers, what would you typically do? Like if they were to return now for example, who would you go to see first about it? Would you see a pharmacist to get something over the counter or would you make an appointment again with your GP?

Well first of all I would put the cream on that they gave me. And if that doesn’t help any more, I would probably just go to the pharmacy and see if they can give me a drug that will help. Or like maybe, I don’t know if you can get like a prescription again after. I might have to go to the doctor’s. I’m not sure how that works. But if I had to get the same one, but I had to get a prescription from a doctor, I’d just go to the doctor’s and ask them to give us a prescription.
Pharmacists or chemists can also help with: 
•    hay fever and allergies 
•    minor cuts and bruises
•    indigestion, constipation and diarrhoea 
•    haemorrhoids (piles) and threadworms 
•    warts and verrucas, mouth ulcers and cold sores
Pharmacists and their teams may also offer lifestyle advice on healthy eating, physical activity, losing weight, sexual health, alcohol support services, and stopping smoking. Some pharmacies also have blood pressure measurement and cholesterol management services. 

What pharmacists do
Pharmacists are experts in medicines and how they work. There’s no need to make an appointment to see a pharmacist, and people can talk to them confidentially (privately). Auberon had always found it possible to speak confidentially to the pharmacist, and pointed out that many now have a private consulting room. But, as a young carer, Ambeya sometimes felt that her privacy was not respected by people at the counter in her local chemist.
 

The staff are good at Auberon’s chemist. He can talk in a private consultation room about his medications, especially if they’re new tablets.

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And in terms of the health centre, is there a pharmacy near there as well then? When you’ve got your prescription, you can easily get them?

There is in the supermarket near, right next door to it, yes.

So easy walking distance?

Yeah, about two minutes' walk.

And how have you found the pharmacist and the staff at the pharmacy?

The pharmacy staff have been really good actually. If they need to talk to me about my meds, they always take me to a consultation room where it's private and stuff, so yeah.

So that’s very good; it's all confidential…

Mm it's all confidential. I don’t feel like I'm talking in front of a whole supermarket, and all the queue behind me. I just feel like… if I personally want to talk to a pharmacist I can just say to a member of staff, "Is it possible for me to talk to the pharmacist in the consultation room?" I might need to wait about five minutes till they finish what they're doing, but they're always happy to go to talk to me.

So do you often suggest it yourself or do they suggest it?

They, in terms of if it's either mentoring for new meds or something, then they would talk to… then they would suggest it, but I never suggest it, no.

So they suggest it themselves and that’s been helpful?

Yeah.

Have you felt that you can talk for as long as you want and not feel rushed or…?

Yes.

So do you see the same few pharmacists there every time or is there a different...

It's all… most of them work there Monday to… the same ones I think work there Monday to Friday, but I think I've seen different ones at weekends.
Pharmacists are responsible for advising people about medicines, including how to take them, possible side effects, and answering questions. As well as preparing and giving out medicines prescribed by the doctor, some pharmacists can also prescribe selected medicines. 

Many GP surgeries now have online services. Paula described how her GP emailed prescriptions to the chemist and Emma explained how she could order repeat prescriptions. People taking regular medicines still need to have reviews every so often with their GP.
 
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Paula’s doctor emails the prescription straight to the chemist. All she has to do is go there and pick up the medicine.

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There’s a [name of pharmacy] one just round the corner in [place name] from my GP. And usually it’s done by email now. But before, I remember once having to get them from the pharmacy down the road. But because that one’s closer, I would just come out of the GP and just go and get my medicine and whatever. Because it would be sent there straight away.

It’s done by email now, is it?

Yeah.

What’s that? I don’t think mine does that.

It’s, you can, it’s a sign-up thing. So you sign up, and they send an email to the pharmacy which you sign up for to send all your medicine there. And then they get the prescription so they can prepare it. And you can just go and pick it up whenever.

Right. So your GP doesn’t give you a prescription? It goes straight –

No, they send it electronically to the pharmacy.

Oh, that’s handy, isn’t it?

Yeah.

So does that mean that you don’t have much of a waiting time for…

No, you can just go and pick it up any time. So last week I went to the GP to get more face cream. And they, he literally sent an email to the pharmacy. And I just left and went to get it.

Oh, that’s good. I’ve never had that in my pharmacy. I’d like that.

It’s a new thing, it’s quite recent. I think you have to ask if you can try it.

Do you prefer it to the way it was before?

Yeah, it’s just so much quicker.
 

Ordering repeat prescriptions online is handy. Emma has to find time to collect the medications but ordering them is quick and easy.

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I think quite a lot of GP surgeries do it now, but you, you get like a log-in and you can log in. And it’s, you have your prescription there and you just tick what it is you need on your repeat. And then that is generated to the surgery. A doctor obviously signs it off. And then that gets sent to the pharmacy.

That’s really handy.

Yeah, it’s good. Cos, well, I mean, I think just in the past what you’d have to do is just phone up the reception and get it done that way, which I think a lot of people still do. But for me it is quite handy when I’m like, “Oh, God, yeah, I’m running out of this. I’ll just quickly nip online, order it.” And then I know the next point, you know, my next action is to go and pick it up. So it’s finding the time to go and pick it up that’s the problem, as opposed to making a bloody appointment.
Ambeya had never looked at her local surgery website or heard about ordering prescriptions online, but felt that this is a good idea. Isaac had never ordered repeat prescriptions online either, though took tablets every summer for hay fever. His mum usually phoned the local surgery and asked for a repeat prescription. Since he turned 18, he’s had to confirm that it’s okay for his mum to call on his behalf.
 

Isaac collects his repeat prescription from the chemist as well as his mum’s medications.

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Most our stuff's on repeat prescription so I don’t usually have to go to get a prescription or whatever, no.

Yeah. So, to get a repeat prescription, does your mum usually phone and then you go and collect the prescription or how do you…?

Usually, usually my mum phones. Recently I've had to say over the phone, "Yes, it's fine for my mum to call on my behalf” due to turning eighteen, which is fine because it's just how it has to be, and yeah. So, I…yeah she rings up, I say it's fine, she says, "Well he needs this and this; he's out of it". And I just go and collect it, that’s just yeah, we do that yeah.

That’s just like the routine.

Yeah, that’s the routine I've been used to, yeah.

So then you get a prescription. Is there a chemist or pharmacy next to you or?

Yes, there is one directly across from the doctors. There is also one further down where I live. So there are two quite close in walking distance. So the one across the road from the doctors is easy, it's just to get to so it is, yeah, they are quite close together and it's quite easy to get things.

Yeah. Do you ever go there to get the prescription, or mostly your mum does that?

No, my mum can't leave the house. She's usually bed-ridden from illness. So I'm usually the one getting stuff from the doctors – the prescriptions and the stuff we need and stuff, yeah.

So you go to the doctors, you pick it up at the reception?

Yeah.

And then you go to the…?

Yeah, then I just cross the road and go to the chemist, yeah.

Have they always been alright at the chemist?

Usually, yeah, they're fine. I've got the prescription, so I have that and I just give it to them and they give it to me. So yeah they're usually fine with me. They…yeah even when I was slightly…if I ever had to do it, they were fine with me, yeah.

So they never really asked questions, what…what's all this for or who's this for?

Yeah, they don’t ask. I just…so long as I answer the question, 'Where do you live?' it's fine. They always ask where the person lives that I'm picking it up for and then that’s it, they're fine with it, so I just go, yeah.
Getting to the chemist
Most pharmacists work in community pharmacies (high street chemists or supermarkets) and hospitals.
 

Auberon often gets his medication from the supermarket pharmacy. The waiting time can sometimes be long but it’s open until 8pm.

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And you mentioned this is a pharmacy in the supermarket?

Yes.

Do you prefer that it's in the supermarket, or would you have preferred a pharmacy that’s just like separate pharmacy, like a Lloyds Chemist or something like that?

I don’t think it makes much difference to me apart from the fact, if it's a Lloyds Chemist, or if it's inside a Tesco, which this one is, I think that not like separate pharmacies to supermarkets like Lloyds have less waiting times. So, they're like , "Come back in five/ten minutes, your prescription will be ready", whilst in supermarkets I've been waiting about half hour because they had a lot to do. They have a lot of patients there because it's more of wide…because it's a bigger…it's in a supermarket so lots more people go and get their prescriptions there. 

So, then they're like, "Come back in half hour; do some shopping… do some shopping if you wanted to, and then come back to collect your prescription." I think it doesn’t really make much difference.

So it’s more how close it is to the GP's surgery?

Yes.

And how easy it is to get there?

Yes.

And these ones in the supermarkets, are they open till quite late now?

They're open till 8.00pm  

8.00pm.

So nine till eight, so yeah.

So often would you say you have to wait for around half an hour?

Around half hour, could be less really, depends on how much customers they have really.

And in that time do you walk around?

I walk around, do some shopping, yeah.

And in terms of the role of pharmacists, is there anything that you think could be improved there, or do you think it's fine as it is, what do you think?

I think it's fine as it is really. There could be more pharmacists working on a particular shift, but to see more customers very quickly especially in supermarkets. But I think they're good, so yeah, they do a good job.
 

The chemist is walking distance from the GP surgery. Louis’ parents buy painkillers and other over-the-counter treatments at the supermarket.

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And then sometimes you’ve had a prescription, would you…where would you take that?

There's a pharmacy which is kind of opposite on the road, so it's really easy to walk to there and get it as well. So it's all quite close by, yeah, a walking distance.

Have you got any memories or opinions of the pharmacists that you’ve seen over the years?

Not really, it's kind of a different one each time kind of who's working there, but no it's quite professional, kind of quick. You just get a prescription and they go and get it and then you leave so, yeah, just quite…nothing really.

So do you pretty much always go to that one or do you use any pharmacies at the supermarkets or anywhere else?

Not really, I only use that one cos it's just near to the GP and it's the only time I really use a pharmacy.

So have you been to the pharmacy, or your parents been to the pharmacy, for small things that you can just get over the counter instead of …?

Usually we kind of buy Nurofen or stuff like that at supermarkets or stuff, like we don’t really use the pharmacy for any other things apart from prescription stuff cos you can kind of get it all in the supermarket.
Kyle’s local chemist was also easy walking distance from the GP surgery. He recalled how, at a younger age, he would go there with a parent and buy sugar-free sweets and get passport photos from the photo booth. Aphra’s village pharmacy also functioned as a community shop and ‘stock a few things that people can run out of...because we don’t have a village shop.’ This included bread, milk and cereals. 

Paying for prescriptions
In Northern Ireland and Scotland all prescriptions are free. In Wales people are entitled to free prescriptions if they’re registered with a Welsh or English GP and get their prescription from a Welsh pharmacy.

NHS prescriptions in England are normally charged per item. But many people are exempt from (free from) paying. This includes people who are:
• under 16 
• 16 to 18 years and in full-time education
• over 19 and in full time education on a low income 
• pregnant or have had a baby in the last 12 months and have a valid exemption certificate
• living with a specified long-term condition and have a valid exemption certificate
• living with a continuing physical disability which means they can’t go out without help from another person and have a valid exemption certificate
• having treatment for cancer
 

Paula had no idea if she’d have to pay for prescriptions when she leaves school. It would be helpful if GPs told people about this when they approach 18.

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Has your doctor or pharmacist ever mentioned what happens when you leave school in terms of paying for prescriptions?

No, I don’t know anything about it.

Would you find that information helpful? Or you’d rather just know when you need to know?

No, I suppose it would be quite useful to plan ahead.

So a bit more information about --

Yeah.

-- what happens when you leave school and which situations you have to pay for prescriptions and which situations are covered?

Yeah.

Where would you like to find out about these things? Would you like to find out through your school? Or your GP? Or your parents?

No, I think it’s something that GPs should mention once they know that you’re 18. So I think it should be like the job of the GP to let you know the changes.

So when you go to see the GP and the GP knows your age and you’ll soon be leaving school after your A levels, they should have a leaflet and say, “This might come in helpful”?

They should have it automatically, yeah.

Have they ever mentioned anything to you yet?

No.

Is it something you would ask your GP or not really?

Yeah, I definitely would ask.
Some people living with long-term conditions like type 1 diabetes get their medicines from the chemist for free. Emma, for example, orders her repeat prescriptions online and collects them when they’re ready. It’s ‘great’ to order online, though mistakes had been made a few times. The pharmacist had to contact the surgery to get a new prescription for her:
 

Emma wishes she could have more insulin on prescription but changing the prescription is ‘a faff’.

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Because I’m type 1 diabetic I get things for, I get it for free. So I’ve never explored kind of asking for something. My experience with pharmacists, pharmacies, is when I order a repeat prescription, just online from my surgery, which is great. I love online services from GP surgeries. That’s definitely something that’s good. But anyway. So I just click, click some buttons and then, you know, I’ll know in the next couple of days I can go and pick up whatever I’ve ordered from the pharmacy. 

But there’ve been quite a few times where I’ve been to go to the pharmacy and whatever I’ve ordered is either not in yet or, you know, they muck up the order or like things like that. And it’s just an annoying process. 

For example, like I ordered some blood glucose test strips, which I obviously need on a daily basis. And they gave me ketone ones, which are different, for when you’re unwell. And I obviously said, you know, “These aren’t actually the ones I ordered.” And they went, “Oh, well, we’re gonna have to go back to your surgery now and get another prescription.” 

It was just, “So, right, so I’m gonna have to wait another week for this to go through.” And it’s like, “What if I needed that immediately?” If I had needed that immediately, I would have to go to a pharmacy and like pay for it and like whatever. But it’s just that kind of lack of consistency I don’t really enjoy. And I just wonder if that’s maybe the pharmacy I’ve lucked out with or if that’s quite a common occurrence, where there’s a miscommunication between the GP surgery and the actual pharmacy dispensing medicine. Who knows?

That’s frustrating.

Yeah, it can be frustrating. And what, there’s one other thing that I’ll just mention.

Yeah, please do.

That like on my prescription, for some reason there’s only four vials of insulin put on even though I’d asked for boxes of five. So every time now I only get four. And it just completely, it’s like, “Why don’t you just give me another one? You know, I’m not some kind of junkie that’s using this in other means. You know, this is my life.” It’s like the process would be for me to have to make an appointment with the GP to then change my prescription and it’s just a faff. Like it’s, it can take, those kinds of things I just can’t be bothered with. I think that’s annoying.
Aphra, who lives in a village, felt that it was helpful to have a good relationship with the pharmacist as well as the GP. When she ran out of antidepressants, her pharmacist gave her some more without the prescription being signed – her GP phoned and told the pharmacist what had happened.
 
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The GP and pharmacist knew Aphra well and what tablets she needed to take.

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When I went to the GPs’ surgery Monday morning and they rang up the pharmacy, which is also in the same village, and they were prepared to give me the antidepressants off without the prescription being signed. So they just reprinted it and they said they’ll get it signed afterwards as it were. And so it's things like that which actually are really, really useful about building that kind of relationship with your pharmacist as well as your doctor, just so they're aware what medicine you're taking and why you're taking it. 

And, you know, mistakes do happen. I think it was one of those things where the temptation is to go, "Oh you're so stupid, how did you not realise that this was the problem?" Especially as I'd been to the GP like three times in that week [laughs]. But actually it was just one of the things that did happen and they fixed for me the same day, so I could go straight to the pharmacy and get the tablets and I didn’t have to worry about not taking any.
Aphra said that the village pharmacist also did consultations at the chemist when the GP surgery was closed over the weekend. If someone needed to go to hospital, the pharmacist would tell them. It’s always the same team and ‘they’re really good at listening to people’.

Emma found that some chemists were better than others. It was helpful when the staff told her when the medicines would be ready to collect and about holiday times when they’d be unavailable. Siobhan found it helpful when she got a text from the chemist telling her that her medication was ready to pick up.
 

The university chemist was efficient and the people were helpful.

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In terms of pharmacies I think it’s kind of hit or miss maybe. I don’t know. My one at university, it was totally fine.

Can you tell me more about that, why that was good?

Yes, it was just, I mean the people were quite nice, which was good. But they were just really efficient and they let you know when to come back specifically, when things would be in. Which was really helpful. And, you know, a lot of things were done there on the day anyway, so you didn’t have a problem. And, you know, they also made people aware, which I thought was good, of like kind of holidays and when things wouldn’t be available, and made sure people were prepared and stuff like that. So, yeah....
Not everyone got to know their pharmacist personally as they might do in a small village, and sometimes people would have preferred more anonymity. When Ambeya was younger, she often had to pick up medicine from the chemist for her mum, as her carer. She didn’t like being asked what the medication was for and found it awkward when the pharmacist asked. In ‘an area where everyone knows everyone’, she’d prefer it if she could leave the prescription with the pharmacist and collect it in a sealed bag later, without the sales staff knowing what was in it.
 

Ambeya felt that it can be hard for young carers to pick up medicines for their parent. Badges for carers are a good idea.

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The one issue that I did have was obviously, as a young carer, your responsibilities from a normal child is different. And one of the main issues that we used to have when we were young was the fact that when it came to picking up medication, because obviously if my mum can't go to get her medication, we have to go. And if we're like twelve years old and go to the chemist to pick up medication, we were never allowed to go. And then the doctor, the GP, like pharmacist used to ask us, "What do you want his medication for blah blah." And yeah it caused problems. 

Like we used to have so many problems at the pharmacy when it came to picking up medication. And it's just the fact that obviously we want to keep the reasons hidden, so having to force it out of ourselves to tell a pharmacist. And then it just caused so much problems, and we didn’t like it that. And it’s the fact that we had to face them again next time, which just caused awkwardness again. 

So it was access to medicines and stuff which, if you are asking me about the health service, it was access to medication. Because I think young carers, they're not…other people don’t understand what the life is of, like of a young carer, so not being able to act as a young carer, and access the things that young carers should…they'd make life difficult for us when we were younger.

What would have made it easier when you went to the pharmacies, what could have made that trip to the pharmacy, picking up the medicine easier?

Well obviously it would have been easier if an adult would have been able to get the medicine. But if you don’t have access to an adult at the time, it would be easier just to know we could go in and just be able to collect the medicine. Or just yeah.... But I think now what they're trying to do is they're trying to get carer badges or something. So you just wear it and they know that you're a carer and that you're here to pick up medicine, which is good now. But it would have been better if it happened years ago.
Ish usually got his prescriptions from a high street chemist, where he sees the same pharmacist. He likes going to the same chemist every time. Ish liked the staff at the chemist but found it annoying that he had to keep trying different treatments for acne and pay for these every few months even though they didn’t work.
 
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Ish prefers the customer service at the pharmacy to that at the GP surgery. The pharmacist remembers him and asks how he is.

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And about your prescriptions, medication or any medication, where do you normally go? Do you go to the pharmacist or?

Yeah, just the pharmacist, you know like in Boots or something like that. So I mean, which is kind of weird because the people at the pharmacy care more about you than your own doctor. So they’re actually nice about it. So when you go there they are actually nice and welcoming. So that’s a little bit weird.

Mm. That’s interesting. Can you tell me a little bit more why you think, why you think that’s weird and why you think they’re nicer and how they’re nicer?

I don’t know. It’s just like, they do try to give you your prescription as soon as possible. I go to the same person so she knows who I am. Exactly if every time I had to go for antibiotics now or something like that, she always remembered me. So she’s giving me customer service that for, example at a GP, you would expect from a receptionist. Because I’m sorry, I’m pretty sure in Boots, the pharmacist sees as much as people you do, you know what I mean and not even like with that serious problems. It’s like having a migraine and they ask for a medicine. So they’re giving a lot better customer service than your local GP. So that’s a little bit frustrating on some level. 

So is it always the same pharmacist that you try and see?

Yeah.

And you have a, you’ve got a relationship with him or her?

Yeah I guess so. She’s really nice. So I just try and talk to her. So even if she’s not serving me, she just says, “Hi, how have you been? I haven’t seen you for a while, you know.” So she actually remembers. Maybe she doesn’t remember my name but she remembers my face. So that’s a lot better.

Yeah, sounds like you’ve got a great experience with that one. Have you ever been to see any other pharmacist? And have you had, what kind of experiences have you had?

I haven’t really been because ever since I went to her, it’s like she’s been really nice. So I try to stick with the same people if I find someone that’s good. So I’m just like, you know, it’s not even worth trying it. 
 

Ish wished he could get a refund every time an acne cream didn’t work. It got expensive over the years trying so many different treatments.

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So every time basically when I was going for my acne problem, it was every time, like, “Oh if it come backs or if it gets worse, just come back.” So it was never a definite answer and wasn’t like, “Oh, we’ll refund you or something like that.” Like, “It didn’t work. I’m sorry about it. Let’s try something else.” It was just like, “Oh, here try this. Here, try this.” So every single time it was just like, “Here, try this.” 

And going, I guess it was, at that time, it was more frustrating to my mum than me because it was her money and everything so she had to pay for it. So it was probably a little bit annoying that she was spending like so much money, like a hundred, hundred dollars on it every single months or every single like two months, just to get new creams. 

I do remember in our little cabinet, like if you opened it, there was a bunch of little creams. That was funny though, in the end of it. So…

Yes, it sounds like it has important financial implications having to pay for things and if they don’t work.... 

Exactly, so just paying for it when it doesn’t really work. Like I’m sorry, you know even Argos gives you your money back and even Primark gives you your money back if something doesn’t work out for you, or like it breaks. So it’s not working. If you’re going to get a hoover and it’s not working they’re not going to be like, “Here, buy a new hoover, like, we’re not giving you your money back.” You know, and we’re talking about people’s health and wellbeing. So there’s, it really seems like they don’t really care about that part of it. If you want to be, if you want to be acne free or you don’t want to be sick, there, pay money for it.
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