For many years, PAGB has aimed to promote the role of self-care and self-medication in underpinning health care in Great Britain.
Increased self-care brings many benefits, not only for the individual, but for clinicians, the NHS, government and society as a whole. In this section you can find a summary of the evidence that supports the case for self-care.
What do we mean by ‘self-care’?
The Department of Health has described self-care as ‘the actions people take for themselves, their children and their families to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long-term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after an acute illness or discharge from hospital.’1
The continuum below illustrates the sliding scale of self-care in the UK, starting with the individual responsibility people take in making daily choices about their lifestyle, such as brushing their teeth, eating healthily or choosing to do exercise. At the opposite end of the scale is major trauma where responsibility for care is entirely in the hands of the healthcare professionals, until the start of recovery when self-care can emerge again.
When people experience common health problems such as coughs and colds, they can often self-manage the symptoms until they get better, for example by using over-the-counter medicines. It is not always necessary to seek medical advice, particularly if it is something they have experienced before and recognise the symptoms. If symptoms persist, or get worse, people can get help and advice from NHS Direct, a pharmacist or their GP.
The next step is shared care between the health professional and patient, for example chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes and high blood pressure where the patient is responsible for everyday actions like taking medication, maintaining a healthy lifestyle and monitoring their condition but treatment is overseen by the doctor. In these instances, the patient’s ability to successfully self-care can drastically affect their quality of life, health outcomes and life expectancy.
1 'Self care – A real choice, Self care support – a practical option', published by Department of Health, 2005