'Cultural change' needed to cut huge NHS minor illness bill

GPs can help to cut the £2bn annual cost of minor ailments to the NHS by educating patients how to self care, health experts have said.

Dr Buckman: GPs can help to reverse dependency by educating patients to manage conditions themselves

A cultural shift in public behaviour is needed to break patients’ ‘cycle of dependency’ on the NHS when they develop minor illness, according to GP leaders.

Speaking at the joint RCGP and Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) self care conference in London, experts called on the government to do more to promote self care by improving access to health information.

Inappropriate presentation to general practice accounts for a large share of the NHS bill for minor ailments.

Many patients fear they might miss a more serious condition if they do not present to their doctor, experts said. Others believe prescription medications are more effective than those bought OTC.

Speaking at the event, GPC chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said: ‘Patients have a lack of confidence in self care. They have been trained to expect prescriptions but I think they can be trained not to.’

GPs reinforce this behaviour by prescribing for minor ailments, often to avoid confrontation, Dr Buckman added. Although this is sometimes unavoidable, GPs can help to reverse this dependency by educating patients to manage conditions themselves.

Professor Nigel Sparrow, chair of the RCGP Professional Development Board, said supporting patients to self care was ‘vital’ to improve public health.

He said: ‘People need more information and reassurance they’re doing the right thing.’

Increased self care could cut antibiotic use, free up consultation time and so save the NHS money, he added.

The RCGP plans to launch an e-learning module on the subject in 2011.

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