The Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP) is encouraging patients to practise self-care, consult NHS Choices, or visit their pharmacist before booking an appointment with their GP.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the RCGP, said she hoped that the three-step mantra, labelled “3 before GP”, will reduce the “immense” pressure felt by GPs during the winter period.
Public Health England has reported a big increase in GP consultations for flu-like symptoms already this new year, and NHS England has ordered hospitals to postpone outpatient appointments and elective surgery to cope with the seasonal pressure.
“Not being able to get an appointment is frustrating for both patients and GPs, but there are a variety of alternatives to consider first and I would encourage patients with more minor illnesses to think hard about whether they actually need to see a GP,” said Stokes-Lampard.
“The ‘3 before GP’ mantra is a simple and easy way to help reduce the strain on general practice, and we hope it will enable GPs to spend more time with patients who have complex health issues and are most in need of our expert help,” she added.
Neal Patel, head of corporate communications at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society said that, as the experts on medicines, pharmacists can help people with both questions about winter bugs and concerns about side effects of prescription medicines.
“Crucially, pharmacists can help you decide when that worrying symptom is something you can manage yourself or when you should seek help, which is especially important over the holidays when your GP surgery may be closed,” said Patel.
Donna Castle, director of public affairs and communications at the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB), which represents branded over-the-counter medicines, gave her full support to the RCGP’s call.
“There is a wide range of medicines and treatments available to buy from pharmacies and supermarkets which can offer relief from common self-treatable conditions, such as coughs, colds, indigestion and allergies,” she said.
“If you need advice or aren’t sure which medicine is suitable for your symptoms, the NHS Choices website has useful, reliable information or your local pharmacist can provide expert advice and support.”