Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the Chair of the Royal College of GPs has urged people to take 3 steps of self help before they turn to their incredibly overstretched GP.
The majority of minor health complaints can be sorted at home, with over the counter medication, common sense and a bit of research from reputable websites. Pharmacists are trained to help with common complaints and are able to advise on the vast array of medication that does not require a prescription.
Common complaints such as indigestion, mild fever, cold symptoms, sore throats, nasal congestion, rashes and mild skin irritations can all be self-treated with pharmacy advice. This would then free up the GPs for the more serious issues and would make it easier for everyone to get an appointment when they need one.
Basic first aid and knowledge around accident prevention will also reduce the load on the NHS. Prompt and appropriate first aid can prevent a minor injury becoming more major, can reduce pain and the severity of injuries and often means the casualty does not need medical intervention at all.
GPs “really feel the pinch” over winter because of demand, said Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard. GP leaders say there are not enough family doctors working in England and that practices are closing at an “alarming rate”.
According to Professor Stokes-Lampard, “up to a quarter of appointments could be avoidable or sorted out by other means”.
She urged patients to adopt the “three before GP” mantra.
“We’re just asking people to stop and think, when you reach for the phone to book a GP appointment think: ‘Can I do this myself? Do I need some online help? Could a pharmacist help me?’
“Even if 5% of people paused before reaching for the phone… that would save 50,000 appointments, perhaps freeing up a bit of space for those who need them,” she told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One.
A reputable online source would include NHS Choices, she said, praising the site for its “helpful, sensible advice that’s up-to-date, written by doctors and nurses for patients.
“There’s nothing more trustworthy than the NHS. The NHS spends a lot of money on that website for very good reason.”
But she added: “We’re not suggesting for a moment that people shouldn’t be seeing their GPs if they need to – that’s what we’re there for.”
“Today over a million people will be seeing a GP around the UK.”
“The workload has gone up inexorably because of an ageing population with multiple long-term conditions.”
“Even if it is a cough or a cold, don’t wait until it gets more serious. Seek advice from your pharmacist,” he said.
He added: “Crucially, pharmacists can help you decide when that worrying symptom is something you can manage yourself or when you should seek help.”