20 October 2021 - Deborah Wilkes
- Coalition calls for national self-care strategy
- Group represents UK healthcare and industry bodies
- Numerous barriers to greater self-care
- Inequalities in health literacy must be addressed
- Self-care should be taught in schools
- Expanded role for pharmacists proposed
The government needs a national self-care strategy to steer people away from unnecessary doctor and hospital visits as the National Health Service (NHS) recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a coalition of leading healthcare and industry bodies in the UK.
The coalition – which includes NHS Clinical Commissioners, the Royal College of Nursing and the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) – is calling for a “coordinated policy to improve understanding of self-treatable health conditions and support self-care options”.
“A new system needs to be created which fully integrates the promotion of everyday wellbeing, self-care for self-treatable conditions and the management of long-term conditions into the wider health system,” insists the coalition.
People should “understand and be willing to practise self-care”, says the coalition, and there should be a “cultural shift among healthcare professionals towards wellbeing and away from the biomedical model of care”.
The coalition adds that the system should be designed to “support self-care, with pharmacy much more embedded in the primary care pathway and clear routes to self-care across primary and secondary care”. Furthermore, digital technology should be used to its full potential.
Numerous barriers to self-care
According to the coalition, there are numerous barriers to maximising the opportunities presented by self-care including rigid patient pathways, unnecessary prescribing and persevering perceptions of hierarchies in the NHS.
A series of measures to bring about “a wholesale cultural shift” in attitudes towards self-care and accessing health services are recommended by the coalition.
Inequalities in health literacy should be addressed, says the coalition, and self-care should be taught in primary and secondary schools. It also wants to see self-care modules included in training curricula and continuing professional development for healthcare professionals.
The coalition says pharmacists should be more fully integrated into the health system, with the right to update as well as read people’s medical records. Pharmacists should also have the right to refer people directly to other healthcare professionals, it states, adding that anyone visiting a pharmacy as a first option would know it would lead them either to the best self-care advice or to another appropriate expert.
Making best use of digital technology
Policymakers are urged to use digital technology to its full potential as a way of broadening access to self-care information and supporting self-treatment options.
Furthermore, the coalition calls for the Department of Health and Social Care to work with medicines regulators to identify conditions for which treatments could be switched from prescription-only to OTC status. This would “give people faster, easier access to medicines and promote self-care”, says the coalition.
Recommendations by the coalition are set out in a new paper called ‘Realising the potential: Developing a blueprint for a self care strategy for England’. The paper can be downloaded at www.selfcarestrategy.org.
The coalition notes that the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift in attitudes as people followed government advice to use self-care wherever possible. “This offers a unique opportunity to embed self-care fully into the NHS, freeing up resources such as general practitioner appointments and A&E slots for those who need them most,” it adds.
“If the system allows people to return to pre-pandemic behaviours,” warns the coalition, “this opportunity will be lost and the avoidable demand of treating self-treatable conditions will continue to be felt in primary and urgent care settings throughout the NHS.”
Self-care is not ‘no care’
Commenting on the initiative, Neil Lister, president of the PAGB, said: “Self-care is not ‘no care’. It is an important but often overlooked part of the primary care pathway.”
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 18 million general practitioner appointments and 3.7 million visits to A&E for self-treatable conditions, recalled Lister, adding these could have been managed at home with support and advice from a pharmacist.
“Over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 ‘stay at home’ message has shown people that they can self-care for minor ailments,” he added. “We need to enable them to continue to do so now the restrictions have eased.”
Michelle Riddalls, the PAGB’s chief executive, said: “A national self-care strategy, as envisaged in this blueprint drawn up by a broad range of healthcare and pharmacy organisations, would bring significant benefits for individuals as well as for the NHS as a whole.”
Riddalls said the PAGB looked forward to working further with stakeholders and the government towards this goal.
General practitioner Sarah Jarvis commented that self-care was a “valuable life skill which makes a real and positive difference to the way people are able to navigate common minor health problems”.
“There is a clear desire among the public to practise self-care in order to help themselves and relieve pressure on the NHS,” added Jarvis, “but they need to feel able and supported to self care when that’s the best option for them.”
“We need to empower individuals to recognise and manage self-treatable symptoms quickly and effectively, with advice from a pharmacist where necessary but without the need for a general practitioner consultation,” she continued. “Embedding the role of the pharmacist as a key and integral part of the primary healthcare team can empower patients and make the best use of the invaluable skills of our community pharmacy colleagues.”
The coalition includes a number of pharmacy bodies such as the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIM), the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA), the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and the Royal Pharmaceutical Society.