Mixed Response as NHS Tells Parents to Use Pharmacists More

NHS England’s Stay Well Pharmacy
child health

A new campaign from the NHS is encouraging parents of young children to take them to pharmacies rather than GPs or A&E for minor illnesses – and has met with a mixed response from professionals.

The intention is to reduce pressure on GPs and A&E, after a survey showed that just 6% of parents of under-5s would start with a visit to the pharmacist for a minor illness (e.g. earache, diarrhoea or stomach ache) while 35% would visit the GP.

It is said that self-treatable conditions account for around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E.  NHS England say that it could save £850m a year if minor or self-treatable conditions were dealt with in the pharmacy instead of at the doctors or hospital.

Pharmacists have welcomed the news and sought to reassure parents. Dr Bruce Warner, the deputy 
chief pharmaceutical officer for England said:

“Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice and effective treatments for a wide range of minor health concerns right there and then.

“However, if symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need.”

Sandra Gidley, the chairman of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society England Board said:

“It is great to see a campaign putting pharmacists at the front of people’s minds when it comes to getting clinical advice and over the counter medicines for minor health concerns.”

However, charities have been more sceptical and are concerned that delays in seeking help could have unwanted consequences.

Rachel Power, the chief executive of the Patients Association, said:

“For common childhood illnesses, a pharmacist will often be a sensible first port of call, so we welcome efforts to raise awareness of the support they can offer.

“Equally, we wouldn’t want to see parents put off taking their children to see a doctor if they have any suspicion that something more serious could be wrong.

“While this campaign has its merits, the timing is not a coincidence. The pressures facing the NHS after years of underfunding and mismanagement of its workforce create a huge incentive to discourage people from using GPs or A&E.

“Often people will be right to use alternatives, but we don’t want to hear of more cases where someone has stayed away and subsequently come to serious harm because they were in fact seriously ill.”

Joyce Robins, from Patient Concern, said:

“Most of the time when a child the snuffles it’s not likely to turn serious – but identifying the subtle differences is really difficult for parents, and things can turn nasty really quickly.

“Parents aren’t doctors, and pharmacists aren’t doctors either. We know the NHS is overloaded but this is a very high risk strategy.”

Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairwoman of The Royal College of GPs said that pharmacists were highly-skilled medical professionals and using them more could help ease the pressure on GP. However, she added:

“But of course, they are not GPs and in an emergency or situation where genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance, particularly if parents see potentially serious symptoms in their child such as a very high temperature that doesn’t respond to simple measures, features of dehydration or lethargy.”

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