In a submission to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, PAGB Chief Executive John Smith says the pandemic has prompted more people to practise appropriate self care for self-treatable conditions, rather than visiting their GP or local A&E department.
If continued, this shift will free up healthcare professionals to focus their time and expertise on individuals with serious or long-term health conditions that need medical attention, as well as those with Covid-19 symptoms.
“Once the worst of the coronavirus crisis is over and healthcare services begin to normalise, there will be a unique opportunity to embed self care behaviour in a sustainable way,”
John Smith says in PAGB’s evidence to the committee’s inquiry into Delivering Core NHS and Care Services during the Pandemic and Beyond.
However, he warns that steps must be taken to manage any backlog of ‘unnecessary demand’ for health services.
“It will be critical to ensure that those people with self-treatable conditions continue to self care and do not automatically seek medical attention as soon as services begin to normalise again.”
Before the coronavirus outbreak, there were an estimated 18 million GP appointments and 3.7 million A&E visits every year for conditions which people could have treated themselves or for which a pharmacist should have been the first port of call.
The cost to the NHS, along with that of unnecessary prescriptions for products which could be bought over the counter, is estimated by PAGB at £1.5 billion a year.
PAGB says the increased demand for over-the-counter products such as paracetamol in recent weeks underlines the important role of non-prescription medicines in tackling milder cases of Covid-19 and in relieving pressure on GPs.
Among the coronavirus-related NHS changes which should be fully embedded in order to encourage self care, PAGB’s evidence to the Select Committee cites:
In its submission, PAGB repeats its call for a national self care strategy, as outlined in its Self Care White Paper of last year, and recommends that:
John Smith concludes:
“[If] the system and healthcare professionals themselves allow people to return to doing what they did before…the unnecessary demand of self-treatable conditions will continue to be felt in primary and urgent care settings throughout the NHS.”