Why is self care good for people?
Empowering people with the confidence and information to look after themselves when they can, and visit the GP when they need to, gives people greater control of their own health and encourages healthy behaviours that help prevent ill health in the long-term. In many cases people can take care of their minor ailments, reducing the number of GP consultations and enabling GPs to focus on caring for higher risk patients, such as those with co-morbidities, the very young and elderly, managing long-term conditions and providing new services.
More cost-effective use of stretched NHS resources allows money to be spent where it’s most needed and improve health outcomes. Furthermore, increased personal responsibility around healthcare helps improve people’s health and wellbeing and better manage long-term conditions when they do develop. This will ultimately ensure the long-term sustainability of the NHS.
Around 80% of all care in the UK is self-care. The majority of people feel comfortable managing everyday minor ailments like coughs and colds themselves; particularly when they feel confident in recognising the symptoms and have successfully treated using an over-the-counter (OTC) medicine before.
On average, people in the UK experience nearly four symptoms every fortnight, the three commonest being feeling tired/run down, headaches and joint pain and most of these are managed in the community without people seeking professional healthcare.
What happens when people give up on self-care?
Despite people’s willingness to initially self-treat, there are still 57 million GP consultations a year for minor ailments at a total cost to the NHS of £2 billion, which takes up, on average, an hour a day for every GP.
Research shows that people often abandon self care earlier than they need to, typically seeking the advice of a doctor within a period of 4-7 days. The main reasons for this are:
- Lack of confidence in understanding the normal progress of symptoms (e.g. a cold can last up to 14 days)
- The perceived severity and duration of symptoms
- Reassurance that nothing more serious is wrong
- A prescription to ‘cure’ the illness, even though the same medicine may be available over-the-counter
Often just simple changes aimed at meeting the needs of local communities can be very effective at encouraging increased self care. These include giving patients the information they need to care for their common ailments and to make healthy lifestyle choices, signposting people to the right local services and outreach work to provide health advice in non-traditional settings such as pubs, libraries and job centres.
In the GP consultation itself, involving patients in their care through shared decision making has also proved to be a successful approach. This has led the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) to develop a free online learning module on ‘self care for minor ailments’ which is aimed at developing GP and nurse consultation skills to support self care for patients (please see “resources” button).
For more information see the Self Care Forum webpage at: http://www.selfcareforum.org/