22 May 2020 - Deborah Wilkes
“The National Health Service (NHS) has a unique opportunity to cement positive changes in the way people use its resources in the wake of the coronavirus crisis,” according to the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB).
In a submission to the House of Commons Health and Social Care Select Committee, the consumer healthcare association points out the COVID-19 pandemic has prompted more people to practise appropriate self-care for self-treatable conditions, rather than visiting their general practitioners or local emergency departments.
“If continued,” says the PAGB, “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,” continues the PAGB, “there will be a unique opportunity to embed self-care behaviour in a sustainable way.”
Providing evidence to the committee’s inquiry into Delivering Core NHS and Care Services during the Pandemic and Beyond, the PAGB maintains that “steps must be taken to manage any backlog of unnecessary demand for health services”.
Action needs to be taken
“It will be critical to ensure that people with self-treatable conditions continue to self care and do not automatically seek medical attention as soon as services begin to normalise again,” insists the PAGB.
The PAGB is calling for a shift to a “digital first” approach, particularly the use of the NHS 111 online service to provide reliable information about options including appropriate self-care.
The association also wants to see “increased use of trusted online symptom trackers to help people identify and manage self-treatable conditions, offer advice about OTC medicines and flag up any symptoms requiring medical attention”.
Furthermore, the PAGB highlights the importance of using telephone and video consultations to allow general practitioners and other healthcare professionals to assess people and manage demand. However, the PAGB stresses this should not be a way for individuals to access a general practitioner when they could be practising self-care with the support of a pharmacist.
Relieving pressure on the NHS
The PAGB points out that before the coronavirus outbreak there were an estimated 18 million appointments with general practitioners and 3.7 million visits to emergency departments each year for conditions that could have been managed through self-care and/or a visit to a pharmacist.
Increased demand in recent weeks for OTC products such as paracetamol, says the PAGB, underlines the important role of non-prescription medicines in tackling milder cases of COVID-19 and in relieving pressure on general practitioners.
“If the system and healthcare professionals themselves allow people to return to doing what they did before,” warns the PAGB, “the opportunity will be lost and the unnecessary demand of self-treatable conditions will continue to be felt in primary and urgent care settings throughout the NHS.”