Interviews with GPs in 2019, revealed that they continue to face challenges around consultation time, patient expectations, free prescriptions, and their own risk aversion, all of which can be a barrier to having a self care conversation and recommending purchasing a product. GPs are only human and sometimes it’s simply quicker and easier to prescribe than to challenge someone who’s already sitting across the desk. This behaviour was highlighted in PAGB commissioned qualitative research from 2009 by TNS Kantar. It’s interesting to see the barriers to self care are still the same ten years later.
However, GPs are increasingly self care aware and want to see a future where people don’t come to them for self-treatable conditions.
Levers and drivers in self care
The availability of new products, in new therapeutic categories, creates further opportunities for self care; and the OTC Directory provides a comprehensive guide to what’s available. Combine this with excellent resources from the Self Care Forum on how to conduct a self care consultation, and new resources from CCGs, and GPs are better equipped than ever to support self care.
There’s no doubt that the NHS needs more people to self care. NHS England/NHS Clinical Commissioners guidance to CCGs in 2018 marked a new wave of restrictions on prescribing items which are available over the counter, and has prompted CCGs to implement their own policies, some of which go further than the guidance. Multidisciplinary working across Primary Care Networks should help embed self care practice as GPs work more closely with other healthcare professional colleagues including pharmacists.
In this year’s edition of the directory, a partnership with RB and Boots meant that GPs received a bumper self care pack including a guide to Boots pharmacy services and a recommendation prescription pad to give self care advice to people presenting with symptoms of a self-treatable condition.
The popularity of the recommendation prescription is immediately evident and PAGB is making available the materials for download from www.otcdirectory.co.uk in the first instance. This is a promising indication that our policy campaign on introducing recommendation prescriptions in the NHS will have the backing of healthcare professionals (HCPs), giving it an excellent chance of success.
Fit for the future
So what’s next for the OTC Directory? As the NHS is slowly dragged into a digital future, with the promise of greater systems integration, electronic health information and paperless prescribing, we want to ensure that healthcare professionals have ready access to reliable up-to-date information about consumer healthcare products and self care advice.
From its early online iteration as ‘Medicines Chest’ to a relaunched otcdirectory.co.uk, PAGB continues to develop the Directory online. Our research among HCP users showed a 50/50 split in preference for the print and digital versions, reflecting the challenges of day to day practice and personal preference.
Will GPs and pharmacists still reach for a copy of the OTC Directory from the bookshelf in 2024? Probably not, it’s much more likely that they’ll want to access that information digitally and give recommendations on self care products at the touch of a button.
The OTC Directory is already online at www.otcdirectory.co.uk giving healthcare professionals instant access at any time, on any device but we won’t stop there. PAGB’s report, Self care and technology: Harnessing the potential of technology to transform self care, made recommendations for embedding self care through digital transformation, one of which is to get the OTC Directory into NHS systems.
Of course, a future where people seek advice from the appropriate healthcare professional – in many cases a pharmacist – or are well enough equipped to treat their symptoms independently, is the ultimate aim. But we’re not there yet and there’s still a role for healthcare professionals across the NHS to support people with advice on self treatment.
The digital transformation of healthcare, and society in general, requires all of us to think differently and focus on the future of self care. The OTC Directory is a big part of PAGB’s history and its legacy will continue.
By Nikki Kennedy, PAGB’s Communications Manager
The OTC Directory is just one of the initiatives that PAGB published as part of its work to progress self care in the population. If you would like to find out more about PAGB’s Self Care Journey spanning five decades read this Spotlight article.