A new national campaign designed to take pressure off hospitals and GP surgeries has urged patients to consider seeing a pharmacist first if they feel they only have a minor illness.
The NHS England Stay Well Pharmacy campaign was launched this week via a TV advert and digital and social media advertising. It states that pharmacists are well-placed to deal with conditions such as coughs, colds and stomach aches and that this would free up time for the sickest patients.
According to its research, there were around 18 million doctors' appointments and 2.1 million accident and emergency visits last year for conditions that turned out to be self-treatable, which cost up to £850 million.
Parents are among the people being specifically targeted by the drive, as it was found that 35 per cent of under-fives would go to a GP if their child had earache, diarrhoea or stomach ache. However, just six per cent said their first port of call would be a pharmacist, despite them knowing that such professionals are clinically trained for minor ailments.
Significantly, 95 per cent of the population lives within walking distance of a community pharmacy and the NHS is working with them to increase the number of patient services they provide so that they can add more value and ease the pressure on the health service.
Deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for NHS England Dr Bruce Warner 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.
"However, if symptoms suggest it's something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need."
Despite backing the advice, the Patients Association also responded by stressing that it does not want people to feel as though they cannot see a doctor if they are concerned something is really wrong with either themselves or a child.
"We don't want to hear of more cases where someone has stayed away and subsequently come to serious harm because they were in fact seriously ill," a spokesperson added.
The results of a trial carried out recently showed that some 1,200 patients who called 111 were referred to pharmacists instead of GPs or hospitals as part of a new scheme to make better use of the professionals during weekend and out-of-hours periods.