The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) is among leading healthcare and industry bodies urging the Government to implement a national self care strategy as the NHS seeks to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The proposal is set out in a new document, “Realising the potential: Developing a blueprint for a self care strategy for England”, backed jointly by NPA, NHS Clinical Commissioners, the Royal College of Nursing, the Self Care Forum, the Company Chemists Association, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the National Association of Primary Care, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies and PAGB, the consumer healthcare association.
Together we are calling for a co-ordinated policy drive to improve understanding of self-treatable health conditions, enhance the role of pharmacy and steer people away from unnecessary GP consultations and visits to A&E.
The blueprint says pharmacy should be integrated more fully into the health system in order to encourage and support self care, with recommendations that:
- Pharmacists should be able to update as well as read individuals’ medical records;
- Pharmacists should have the right to refer people directly to other healthcare professionals, so that anyone visiting a pharmacy as a first option knows it will lead them either to the best self care advice or to another appropriate expert;
- Self care should be taught in primary and secondary schools and included in healthcare professionals’ training curricula.
It also urges policymakers to use digital technology ‘to its full potential’ as a way of broadening access to self care information and supporting self-treatment options.
The blueprint says: “Despite the widely recognised benefits of self care, there are numerous barriers to maximising the opportunities it presents: rigid patient pathways, unnecessary prescribing habits and persevering perceptions of hierarchies in the NHS all stifle progress.”
The group says the COVID-19 pandemic prompted a shift in attitudes as people followed Government advice to self care wherever possible. This offers a ‘unique opportunity’ to embed self care fully into the NHS, freeing up resources such as GP appointments and A&E slots for those who need them most.
However, it warns: “[I]f the system allows people to return to pre-pandemic behaviours, this opportunity will be lost and the avoidable demand of treating self-treatable conditions will continue to be felt in primary and urgent care settings throughout the NHS.”
In 2020, a PAGB survey found that 69% of people who would not previously have considered self care said they would do so after the pandemic. In a similar survey in June 2021, that figure had fallen to 54%. However, the proportion saying they had visited a pharmacy for advice rose from 37% to 47%.
Helga Mangion, Policy Manager at the NPA said: “We support these proposals, which acknowledge that community pharmacy will need to be front and centre of any serious effort to boost self-care. As the front door to the NHS, community pharmacy is an essential element of whole-systems support for self care, leading to better health outcomes and improved quality of life.”
Michelle Riddalls, Chief Executive of PAGB, said: “Self care is a vital part of our health system. It has the potential to reduce health inequalities, improve outcomes and protect NHS resources for those who need them most.
“However, too often it goes unrecognised by policymakers.
“A national self care strategy, as envisaged in this blueprint drawn up by a broad range of healthcare and pharmacy organisations, would bring significant benefits for individuals as well as on the NHS as a whole.
“We look forward to working further with the NPA, other stakeholders and the Government towards this goal.”
Click here to read the full report.