Millions of parents could get more convenient and timely expert advice if their child has a minor illness by opting to go to their local pharmacist first instead of the GP.
Research for the NHS shows just 9% of mums and dads in the East Midlands with children under the age of five would consider seeking help about a minor health concern from a high street pharmacist in the first instance.
35% would opt for an appointment with their GP while 2% of those questioned would choose emergency care as their first point of call.
This is despite an overwhelming majority of adults (76%) from the East Midlands saying they are aware that pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals who can give advice on most common illnesses which includes when and where to seek advice for more serious conditions.
The NHS is urging more parents to use their pharmacy first in a move which could help free up GP time for sicker patients and help save the NHS around £850 million each year as well as save time for busy families.
Around 95% of people live within a 20 minute walk of a local community pharmacy, making pharmacists extremely accessible and a valuable first port of call for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds, tummy troubles or teething.
Around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions – such as coughs and tummy troubles – at a cost of more than £850 million each year to the NHS. This is the equivalent of more than 220,000 hip replacements or 880,000 cataract operations.
The NHS nationally is working with community pharmacies to increase the range of patient services they provide including asthma audits and flu vaccinations and to promote the clinical expertise available from the pharmacy team.
Dr David Levy, Medical Director for NHS England Midlands and East, said “Local pharmacies are so much more than just a place to collect your prescriptions.
“A pharmacist is qualified to advise you on the kind of minor illnesses which are particularly common at this time of year, and the great thing is you don’t need to book an appointment.
“That might mean getting advice about how to manage your child’s illness at home, suggesting some over-the-counter medication to help ease their symptoms, or recommending that you book an appointment with your GP if it’s something more serious.
“It can sometimes be difficult to know the best thing to do when your child is ill. Consideration should be given to making the pharmacy your first stop, taking away the guesswork and is a great habit to get into.”
The call for people, in particular the five million parents of children under five, to use their local pharmacist first for advice is part of the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign launched by the NHS today. It is backed by pharmacists and Netmums, the UK’s biggest parenting website.
A survey carried out as part of the campaign reveals that the proportion of adults questioned from the East Midlands who would get advice from the pharmacist for minor health concerns is only 16%. This went down to just 9% for parents of young children.
While 74% of people agree they trust advice from their pharmacist, there are misconceptions about the level of service this highly trained group of healthcare professionals can offer in terms of advice and expertise.
23% feel it is difficult to discuss health concerns in private with a pharmacist, with many not being aware that more than nine out of 10 pharmacies have a private consultation room. 24% feel they would need to visit the GP anyway, so go direct to the doctor in the first instance. However, NHS England found that among adults who have received advice from a pharmacist in the past six months for themselves or their child, 65% found it useful and 16% needed to go to the GP afterwards.
Annie O’Leary, Editor in Chief at Netmums, said: “We’re committed to raising awareness of the best way parents can keep their little ones well, and that’s why we’re supporting the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign from NHS England. Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice for a wide range of minor health concerns, right there and then. Pharmacists can assess your child’s symptoms and provide clinical advice, or simply provide reassurance that it is nothing more serious. We know convenience is key and parents should consider using the pharmacy team as their first port of call, after all, 95% of the population is within easy reach of a local community pharmacy.”
Luvjit Kandula, a Community Pharmacist in Leicestershire, said: “For minor health concerns, whether it is tummy troubles or a cough, cold or sore throat, you can visit your local pharmacy team for help and clinical advice. We are trained healthcare professionals who can provide immediate clinical support with no appointment needed. Pharmacists are trained in managing minor illness and can assess symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment or simply provide reassurance, for instance when a minor illness will get better on its own with a few days’ rest.”