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Parents urged to think pharmacist first for unwell children

Parents urged to think pharmacist first for unwell children
13 February 2018

Millions of parents could get more convenient and timely expert advice if their child has a minor illness by opting to go to their local pharmacist first instead of the GP.

Research for the NHS shows just six per cent of mums and dads with children under the age of five would consider seeking help about a minor health concern from a high street pharmacist in the first instance. More than a third (35 per cent) would opt for an appointment with their GP while five per cent of those questioned would choose emergency care as their first port of call.

This is despite an overwhelming majority of adults (79 per cent) saying they are aware that pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals who can give advice on most common illnesses which includes when and where to seek advice for more serious conditions.

The NHS is urging more parents to use their pharmacy first in a move which could help free up GP time for sicker patients and help save the NHS around £850m each year as well as save time for busy families.

Around 95 per cent of people live within a 20-minute walk of a local community pharmacy, making pharmacists extremely accessible and a valuable first port of call for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds, tummy troubles or teething.

Around 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E are for self-treatable conditions - such as coughs and tummy troubles - at a cost of more than £850m each year to the NHS. This is the equivalent of more than 220,000 hip replacements or 880,000 cataract operations.

The NHS nationally is working with community pharmacies to increase the range of patient services they provide including asthma audits and flu vaccinations and to promote the clinical expertise available from the pharmacy team.

Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice and effective treatments for a wide range of minor health concerns right there and then. They can assess symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment or simply provide reassurance, for instance when a minor illness will get better on its own with a few days’ rest. However, if symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need.​ We want to help the public get the most effective use of these skilled clinicians who are available every day of the week.”

The call for people, in particular the five million parents of children under five, to use their local pharmacist first for advice is part of the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign launched by the NHS yesterday (Monday 12 February 2018). It is backed by pharmacists and Netmums, the UK’s biggest parenting website.

A survey carried out as part of the campaign reveals that the proportion of adults questioned who would get advice from the pharmacist for minor health concerns is only 16 per cent. This went down to just six per cent for parents of young children.

While 77 per cent of people agree they trust advice from their pharmacist, there are misconceptions about the level of service this highly trained group of healthcare professionals can offer in terms of advice and expertise.

A quarter of people (26 per cent) feel it is difficult to discuss health concerns in private with a pharmacist, with many not being aware that more than nine out of 10 pharmacies have a private consultation room. Nearly a quarter (24 per cent) feel they would need to visit the GP anyway so go direct to the doctor in the first instance. However, NHS England found that, among adults who have received advice from a pharmacist in the past six months for themselves or their child, two thirds (66 per cent) found it useful and less than a fifth (19 per cent) needed to go to the GP afterwards.  

Annie O’Leary, editor in chief at Netmums, said: “We’re committed to raising awareness of the best way parents can keep their little ones well, and that’s why we're supporting the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign from NHS England. Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice for a wide range of minor health concerns, right there and then. Pharmacists can assess your child's symptoms and provide clinical advice, or simply provide reassurance that it is nothing more serious. We know convenience is key and parents should consider using the pharmacy team as their first port of call. After all, 95 per cent of the population is within easy reach of a local community pharmacy.”

Royal Pharmaceutical Society England Board chair Sandra Gidley said: “It is great to see a campaign putting pharmacists at the front of people’s minds when it comes to getting clinical advice and over-the-counter medicines for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds or tummy troubles. Pharmacists are healthcare experts and are the right people to see if you need clinical advice for a minor health concern.”

 The NHS Stay Well Pharmacy campaign will be supported by a TV advert, and digital and social media advertising. For more information search NHS.uk where you can also locate your local pharmacy services.