LGA - Millions of 'unnecessary' GP visits are for coughs and colds

8 Nov 2016 09:53 AM

Millions of GP visits are unnecessary, and for minor ailments such as coughs, colds, back pain and insect bite where patients could instead be helped to treat themselves, say councils.

A new report launched by the Local Government Association - "Helping People Look After Themselves" - calls for "a new culture of care" to reduce pressures on doctors and hospitals.

It comes as latest figures show that 5.2 million GP consultations are for blocked noses, 40,000 for dandruff, and 20,000 for travel sickness.

Minor conditions and illnesses are responsible for approximately 57 million GP consultations and 3.7 million A&E admissions every year, costing the NHS more than £2 billion.

The 3.7 million visits to A&E (19 per cent of all admissions) were for self-treatable conditions such as a sprain (38 per cent), flu (17 per cent), colic (13 per cent) and insect bite (13 per cent).

The LGA, which represents more than 370 councils in England and Wales, says GPs can play a vital role in educating the public about self-care and how they can treat themselves without visiting the doctor or manage long-term conditions by taking preventative measures to stay fit.

With one in five GP appointments for minor ailments, it is estimated that self-care could save doctors on average one hour a day.

Since councils took over responsibility for public health in 2013, there has been a surge of innovative programmes by local authorities to raise awareness of how people can care for themselves by improving "health literacy", and they say GPs need to support patients in doing so.

Figures show a third of patients report difficulties reading and understanding basic health information, while two thirds say they don't understand what their doctor tells them.

Councils say if people learnt how to self-care, it would help cut pressures on adult social care.

Chairman of the LGA's Community Wellbeing Board, Cllr Izzi Seccombe, said:

"We need a new culture of care, where people stop and think before calling the doctor.

"GPs and A&E departments are already overstretched. However many appointments are unnecessary and for minor conditions that a person could treat or manage themselves.

"But patients need to be helped in learning how to look after themselves, for example in managing long-term conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, and GPs can play a key role in this.

"Many patients want to be more involved in their care, as it gives them a greater sense of control and improves their quality of life. Better self-management could make a huge difference to a person's physical and mental wellbeing.

"Instead, the lack of knowledge among the general population about how they can do this is placing a huge burden on surgeries and hospitals.

"Rather than an add-on, self-care should be a central part of how we care for patients, which is something councils up and down the country are actively promoting."

Professor Ian Banks, Self Care Forum Trustee and former A&E doctor, said: "Most people are entirely capable of looking after themselves most of the time, self-treating when it's safe and knowing where and when to seek help when they need it.

"There will always be others however, who might need a bit more support to become empowered and confident in making the right health decision.

"Self care is not no care. Far from it, for example you will find the local pharmacist an excellent source of health advice and information. There are also reputable health information websites such as NHS Choices or the Self Care Forum website."

Self Care Week runs from 14 to 20 November and is the national awareness week that focuses on establishing support for self-care across communities.

The aim is to improve people's knowledge and understanding of how to self-care and so look after their own health better when it comes to self-treatable conditions such as coughs and colds, how to manage more serious conditions such as diabetes and heart disease and how to maintain good health and wellbeing to help prevent illness.

Case studies

Bracknell Forest hosted a Year of Self Care festival during 2016. This included a social media campaign reaching out to more than 200,000 people and GP participation groups to promote winter wellbeing, such as the importance of the flu jab, falls advice and keeping warm.

Wigan trained more than 2,000 health champions to encourage people to adopt healthy lifestyles. It launched the Wigan Deal to get residents to commit to staying healthy with people referred to walking clubs, running groups and arts classes. Staff at pharmacies are also proactively supporting a promoting behaviour change and self-care.

Hertfordshire is developing a website dedicated to encouraging self-care. Residents will be able to access advice about how to manage conditions and when to seek medical attention, as well as information about support groups. The idea is that local health staff will direct patients to the website.

Bradford City Council has set up a dedicated self-care programme. This includes a schools pilot where children are taught the basics of self-care by creating posters and an e-learning package for youngsters to use. Engagement sessions are also held in shopping centres distributing leaflets and postcards promoting self-care, while a health and wellbeing bus tours local communities.

Notes to editors

Making the case for self-care at the heart of the health agenda

Presentation of self- treatable conditions (STCs) in A&E units in England

Top reasons why people go to a GP

LGA publication - Helping people look after themselves – a guide on self-care