Millions of visits to the doctor for coughs and colds are unnecessary and the sick should be helped to treat themselves, councils say. They say one in five appointments is for minor ailments, such as runny noses, back pain and colic in children.
The Local Government Association, representing councils in England and Wales, is asking people to consider going to pharmacies or NHS websites. It says such an approach could help save GPs an hour a day on average.
GPs handle 57 million cases of minor conditions and illnesses, such as coughs, colds, back pain and insect bites a year, while A&Es deal with 3.7 million similar cases, costing the NHS more than £2bn.
Back pain is one of the most common causes for a GP visit yet most cases can be treated with over-the-counter treatments and self care. The same is true of other minor ailments, such as coughs, colds and indigestion, says the LGA.
It cites latest figures showing:
5.2 million GP appointments were for blocked noses
40,000 for dandruff
20,000 for travel sickness
The LGA wants GPs to help to educate people about how to treat themselves, without seeing a doctor.
‘Culture of care’
It says councils, which have had a responsibility for public health since 2013, have been behind a drive to improve “health literacy” among patients.
Councillor Izzi Seccombe, chairwoman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, said: “We need a new culture of care, where people stop and think before calling the doctor.”
GPs and A&E departments were already overstretched yet many appointments were unnecessary, she said.
“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.”
Jonathan MacShane, who is also on the LGA’s Community Wellness Board, said: “We reckon that an average GP could save an hour a day if people weren’t attending with the kinds of conditions, which they could look after themselves.”
Dr Ian Banks, of the Self Care Forum – a body made up of representatives from organisations including the Men’s Health Forum, Public Health England and the Royal College of Nursing, 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.”