The study, published in BMC Family Practice, is the first UK-wide population-based study to examine how people manage their symptoms since the changes in primary care were introduced. It found that ‘use of the primary care team other than the GP was very low'.
The study also raised concerns that changes to primary care ‘could be detrimental if they prevent, or delay, individuals with symptoms of potentially serious diseases from seeking healthcare’.
Despite practice nurses, community pharmacists and NHS Direct all being available to provide patients with advice, 8% of the 12% of symptoms which primary care professionals were consulted on were tackled by GPs. Use of NHS Direct and NHS 24 were extremely low, at less than 3%.
Almost half of those surveyed chose to do nothing about their symptoms and 25% of symptoms resulted in the use of OTC medicines.
Symptoms most likely to encourage patients to seek medical advice included coughs, headaches and fatigue, while patients suffering from psychological symptoms, such as depression or stress, were more likely to discuss their concerns with friends and family.
GPC negotiator Dr Beth McCarron-Nash believes GPs should be signposting and educating patients about the most appropriate use of services. She said GPs ‘have a role to play in self care management, letting patients know what the red flags are and what is normal'.
She said promoting ‘good health awareness’ is especially important as the many of health messages and NHS guidelines which patients are exposed to can be confusing.