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Self Care Aware

Many patients visit their GP or A&E department with minor illnesses which could have been treated with advice from a pharmacist.  This costs the NHS £2billion a year in GP time and pressure on A&E is threatening to reach crisis point this Winter.  When people treat minor conditions themselves they do not always allow time for the symptoms to clear up and visit their GP or A&E unnecessarily as a result.  Self Care Aware means helping people identify when they could take action to treat minor symptoms themselves, and pharmacy can help patients understand whether their symptoms are normal or not, how long they are likely to last, and when to visit a GP.

How can pharmacists get involved?

Pharmacy Voice has worked with the Proprietary Association of Great Britain to develop a series of condition-specific Pharmacy Self Care Advice pathways, along the lines of similar information provided to GPs by the Self Care Forum.  This approach provides pharmacy with a great opportunity to align self care advice to the information used by general practice when talking about minor illness, so patients will receive a consistent message from healthcare providers.  Use of the guides will help patients deal with their symptoms themselves for longer than they currently do, while information about red flags will help pharmacy teams and pharmacists ensure patients are referred to an appropriate colleague when necessary.   

This programme is designed to recognise the worth of pharmacists in giving advice to the public in these circumstances, and be of practical help to pharmacists by stimulating thinking in each pharmacy about how best to deal with patient and public need.  By letting people know what to expect their symptoms to do, actions they can take now and in the future and when to seek medical advice, pharmacists can help build people’s confidence to self care when it’s safe and when it’s not.

What do the Pharmacy Self Care Advice pathways cover?

Much of what is in the Pharmacy Self Care Advice pathways will be familiar to pharmacists, but the key pieces of information are the usual length of time that symptoms may last, and the red flag symptoms which mean consulting a doctor is necessary.  The aim is that GPs and pharmacy teams can use the same information to discuss treatment options and provide consistent advice.  The guidance is intended to be used as part of the clinical decision pharmacists can exercise on the progression of symptoms and treatment options without being a script to be followed and includes:

A summary of the common symptoms, identifying when patients should visit their GP by defining ‘Red Flag Symptoms’, highlighting significant medicine interactions and other useful self care advice.

  • The actions Medicines Counter Assistants, building on the WWHAM approach, can take to support people to make sure their chosen option is appropriate, including when the pharmacist needs to be involved.
  • Information on the appropriate length of time for self treatment if the illness is progressing normally.
  • Guidance for pharmacists on assessing the patient’s symptoms (including red flag symptoms), their medication use to date and any further information needed to provide the patient with further advice and/or treatment.
  • Information allowing pharmacists to make a clinical decision about the best referral to make if red flags are present or the condition has lasted longer than would normally be expected.

The Self Care Fact Sheets and the Self Care Forum

The Pharmacy Self Care Advice pathways build on work done by the Self Care Forum.  Supported by the Department of Health since 2011, the SCF is an independent, multi-disciplinary network of healthcare professionals tasked with running the annual Self Care Week programme for the NHS.  The Forum promotes self care in general practice and its Fact Sheets for minor illnesses help GPs talk to patients about self care during consultations.  The Fact Sheets draw on guidelines from NICE/SIGN, peer-reviewed scientific articles and other well established sources of advice on prescribing and management of illnesses to reflect the key symptoms of particular minor illnesses and the accepted best practice of how to treat them.  They also include useful facts about their condition, a description of what patients can expect to happen, and directions to useful information sources. They are available to download from and can be used in your conversations with patients as a helpful reminder of what they can do next time they have the same symptoms.