Viewpoint: All practices should support self care

Next week is Self Care Week and Dr Pete Smith explains how self care can benefit practices, patients and the NHS.

Self Care Week runs from 16-22 November this year. It is a national awareness campaign which aims to increase people’s ability to self care.

I would urge all practices and CCGs to use the campaign to kick-start a self-care strategy to help inform and educate your patients about self care.  

Why is self care important?

Self care is crucial in addressing demand in practices. It can also help with referrals, patient satisfaction and service quality.  

So, whether you take a few extra minutes during a consultation for a self-limiting condition to explain the normal duration and red flags of symptoms or run educational sessions for patients with long-term conditions, making that initial investment means practices will reap the benefits.  

In doing so you are also empowering your patients. Most of our patients don’t want to take time out of their day to visit the surgery; sometimes all they need is the confidence and reassurance to enable them to look after their own health, which empowers them and helps the practice.   

There are 370m GP consultations a year, 70m more than five years ago and 150,000 extra patients per day, we have no choice but to help people look after their own health and wellness.

Everyone working in health and public health has a responsibility to help stem the tide of people developing avoidable long term conditions such as diabetes and heart disease. Whilst this is for more agencies than just general practice, the 57m GP consultations involving minor ailments and self-limiting conditions, which take up 20% of our time, is an area of demand that practices can and should tackle.

Be a 'self care aware' practice

Become a 'self care aware' practice by incorporating a self care strategy. It isn’t difficult or expensive, it just requires practice-wide commitment.

The Self Care Forum, has produced a wealth of free resources that can help you get started. The How To Guide can help you form your strategy with its:

  • 12 top tips, written by Self Care Forum board member Professor Mike Pringle;
  • evidence-based self care text for practice websites;
  • access to self care material, including self care fact sheets;
  • and a link to a free e-learning course which has 3 CPD points and explains how to have a self care aware consultations. 

Work jointly for Self Care Week

Since we are expected to move towards a more integrated system of health, why not use Self Care Week to work jointly with the CCG and local authority in your area?

There are inspiring collaborations taking place in parts of the country. For Self Care Week last year, two localities in particular have been progressive and inclusive in their attempts to empower their population. The CCGs and local authorities in Bracknell Forest and Yorkshire organised full scale campaigns with local surgeries, pharmacies, NHS trusts and others in the area.

This collaborative work for a local public health campaign not only spreads the efforts for a shared objective but with every health and public health agency taking part, it widens the reach of targeted self care messages ensuring a more successful local campaign. Imagine what can be achieved if every locality participated in such partnerships.

A Self Care Week campaign guide and report based on the work in Yorkshire and Bracknell is available here.

Self care can reduce antibiotic prescribing

My practice adopted a self care strategy for reducing antibiotic prescribing in 2012 and cut demand for antibiotic prescribing for respiratory tract illnesses by 15%.  

The programme, entitled Home Care is Best, won the 2014 NICE Shared Learning Award and is based on NICE guidance on antibiotic prescribing for self-limiting respiratory tract infections in adults and children.

URTIs are responsible for 60% of antibiotic prescribing in general practice and annual prescribing costs for acute cough alone exceed £15m.  Growing antimicrobial resistance is another reason why we owe it to our patients to educate them on appropriate use of antibiotics.

This programme is not difficult or expensive and is easily emulated. Why not use it for your Self Care Week campaign? Further details about the programme, including the toolkit and the evaluation, are available here.  

  • Dr Pete Smith is a GP in Kingston-Upon-Thames and co-chair, Self Care Forum board

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