Self care is key to cutting the cost of minor ailments

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

Professor Nigel Sparrow: patients 'need more information and reassurance they are doing the right thing' (Photograph: Solent News)

A change is needed to break patients' 'cycle of dependency' on the NHS when they develop minor illness, the experts told a conference last week.

Speaking at a joint RCGP and Proprietary Association of Great Britain self care conference in London, experts called on the DoH 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. This is sometimes unavoidable, but GPs can help to reverse this dependency by educating patients to manage conditions themselves, he said.

Professor Nigel Sparrow, chairman of the RCGP professional development board, said supporting patients to self care was 'vital' to improve public health: 'People need more information and reassurance they are doing the right thing.'

Increased self care could cut antibiotic use, free up consultation time and save the NHS money, he said. The RCGP plans to launch an e-learning module on the subject in 2011.

Surrey GP Dr Peter Smith, vice-president of the National Association of Primary Care, said regional GP champions should be appointed to promote self care.

Dr Buckman said he would be 'disappointed' if the public health White Paper, due in December, did not contain specific funding to support patients to self care.

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