Healthcare is changing dramatically and so are the needs of our patients. As such, GPs and our teams are changing the ways in which we are working, but we also need our patients to play their part.
There are many minor conditions and ailments that patients can treat themselves — or at least do not need to see a doctor about. Often they would be just as well served by seeing their local pharmacist, who do a fantastic job advising patients on the best way to treat a whole array of medical conditions.
Infective conjunctivitis, for example, is an unpleasant condition but, at a time when GPs are under considerable resource and workforce pressures, dealing with this is not a good use of our time.
We have produced a poster, which can be downloaded and printed by GP practices to display in their waiting rooms, pharmacists to display in their pharmacies, and teachers and childcare providers to display in their schools and nurseries. It gives parents advice on how to look after their child effectively without seeking medical advice. It also explains what they do not need to do, including making a GP appointment, requesting antibiotics, or take time off school, because these are against clinical guidance from Public Health England. As a result, we estimate up to 160,000 GP consultations are wasted every year.
Our initiative follows research published in the British Journal of General Practice, which found 86.7% of nursery schools in England, Scotland and Wales currently exclude children with conjunctivitis, and nearly half of those require a prescription for antibiotics. This flies in the face of the hard work we are doing across healthcare to curb growing resistance to antibiotics and the dangerous effect this is having on patients’ health globally.
It is essential we get the message out to patients that it is not always a doctor they need to see. There are increasing numbers of alternative healthcare professionals in the community — and sometimes it is not even necessary to see anyone or seek treatment, particularly antibiotics. Infective conjunctivitis is just one example of where self care is better, keeps our health service sustainable, and frees up GP appointments for patients who really need them.
Immediate past chair
Royal College of General Practitioners