The research, which was commissioned by the Self Care Forum, indicates that people need more information on the symptoms of self-treatable conditions, how long they should expect symptoms to last and how to use OTC medicines appropriately.
The results point to “worryingly low levels of health literacy,” says the Self Care Forum, who adds that this contributes to NHS pressures, with 57 million GP appointments and 3.7 million A&E visits for self-treatable conditions each year. The organisation says that efforts to tackle this issue, including highlighting the role community pharmacy can play, would “help reduce unnecessary demands on the NHS”.
Dr Pete Smith, Self Care Forum co-chair, said: “As a GP I regularly see patients in my surgery who are only there for advice or information that they could have got from their local pharmacy. We have been told to expect high levels of colds and flu this winter, so it is vital we do more to give people enough information to help them to self care when appropriate, and to know when things are more serious so they do need to see a doctor.”
The Self Care Forum has produced factsheets to help GPs and pharmacists talk to patients about self-treatable conditions, Dr Smith added.
A need for greater awareness
Self Care Forum co-chair Selwyn Hodge said the survey results “highlight the worryingly low levels of health literacy in the UK,” adding that “while we are becoming an information-rich society, this is not being matched by people’s levels of understanding about health issues”.
Searching for health information online “often leaves people more confused or concerned,” said Mr Hodge, who called for changes to the school curriculum: “We believe that health education should become a statutory part of the curriculum from nursery through to sixth form. This would make real inroads into improving people’s health literacy and help reduce unnecessary demands n the NHS by encouraging appropriate self care.”
Pharmacy minister Steve Brine welcomed Self Care Week, saying: “We know GPs are busier than ever, but around a third of appointments are unnecessary, so any initiatives to provide easily accessible information on self care will help to relieve pressure on GPs.
“Community pharmacists are a great source of knowledge and can offer informed guidance to those seeking treatment for a number of minor ailments, which is why Public Health England and NHS England will again be running its Stay Well This Winter campaign encouraging people to use their community pharmacy first.”