Experts are calling for the NHS to help people self-care by offering a clear online gateway to quality-assured information about minor health conditions.
The call comes ahead of Self Care Week beginning on 16 November, and follows a co-ordinated Government drive to signpost people towards accurate online guidance about COVID-19 to help halt the spread of misinformation.
The NHS has been working with Google, Twitter, and Facebook on a range of measures to ensure that people who search online for ‘coronavirus’ are directed towards the NHS website and away from ‘fake news’.
The call is backed by leading GP Dr Sarah Jarvis, who said it would help maintain the positive shift towards self-care prompted by the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of the few small but important positives of the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increase in the number of people opting to self-care for minor ailments,” said Dr Jarvis.
“To help them do this with confidence, it would be really useful to have separate self-care pages on well-trusted resources such as NHS.uk. While there is high quality self-care advice within the topics on individual conditions, it would be useful to see a self-care section prominently placed on the home page. Making self-care a topic in itself will encourage people to continue to self-care and seek help first from their pharmacist if they have a minor condition, reducing pressure on GP practices and A&E departments.”
PAGB, the consumer healthcare association, is urging policymakers to adopt a similar approach towards all self-treatable conditions, calling for the development of a self-care section in the NHS App and on the NHS website which contains trustworthy self-care advice.
In a PAGB survey, almost seven out of ten people (69%) said they were more likely to consider self-care as a first option in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. More than four out of ten respondents (44%) said they were more likely than before to look up symptoms of ill-health online, while almost eight out of ten (77%) believed the NHS should make more information about self-care available online. Almost one in three (32%) said they had not previously used the NHS 111 website to look for information but would do so in future.
PAGB has put forward a number of recommendations to help the NHS provide the self-care gateway.
The first recommendation is for NHS England to develop a self-care section in the NHS App and on the NHS website, with information including fact sheets such as those developed by the Self Care Forum.
Second, for the NHSX – the body driving digital innovation in the NHS – should explore apps that could support self-care, encourage the use of pharmacies and help manage demand on GPs, and finally, that online NHS systems which help people decide what to do about their symptoms should signpost towards local pharmacies for self-treatable conditions where appropriate.
Michelle Riddalls, chief executive of PAGB, said: “The coronavirus pandemic has prompted many people to consider self-care as a first option when previously they might have opted instinctively – but unnecessarily – for a GP consultation or even a visit to A&E. It’s a welcome shift which will help to reduce health inequalities and make the NHS more sustainable by protecting resources for those with serious, long-term and life-threatening health problems.
“But to make sure that people who want to self-care can do so safely and effectively, it’s crucial that they have straightforward access to reliable, accurate information. They need to know where to look and they need to be able to trust what they read – for example, about which symptoms are ‘normal’ and how to manage them, when they might need specialist medical attention and how to make the best use of expert pharmacy advice.”
Deborah Evans, Fellow of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “Pharmacies can offer expert advice about so many health problems, helping people to self-care as well as flagging up symptoms that may need further investigation.
“A self-care section on the NHS website would be an effective, easily-accessible platform to highlight the role of community pharmacy teams and encourage more people to use pharmacy services as a first option when they need advice about self-treatable health problems.”