Patients urged not to “soldier on”

PATIENTS in England are being urged to seek advice early before health problems escalate requiring hospital.

NHS England has launched an eight-week campaign – called The earlier, the better – which "aims to help nip health problems in the bud and reduce unnecessary stays in hospital".

The campaign was prompted by last year’s urgent and emergency care review, which highlighted the rising number of avoidable emergency admissions to hospital. The review, published in November, identified the need to improve care outside of hospital and to increase public understanding of the alternatives to A&E.

Senior clinicians are encouraging people to seek help early over the winter period. A major concern has been the rising number of older and frail people who are admitted to hospital because of respiratory or other chronic conditions, usually worsened by immobility, the cold and viral illnesses. NHS England believes the answer lies in better self and family care, early recognition of illness and urgent access to medication, primary and community care.

The new awareness campaign is targeting people aged over 60 years old and their careers. Patients are being urged to consult the NHS Choices website for self-care information about minor ailments and illnesses. They are also being encouraged to make greater use of the services available in community pharmacies which often can provide expert help on managing long-term conditions or ailments such as a bad coughs, wheezing, colds or sore throats. Many pharmacies have longer opening hours than the average GP practice, and most have a private consultation area. Patients needing to see a doctor can then be advised accordingly.

Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s Director for Acute Care, said: "We see in our hospitals so many people who have not had or sought the help they need early enough. We have to do better at helping people stay well, not just picking up the pieces when they fall seriously ill."

GPs have welcomed the campaign. Dr Chaand Nagpaul, Chair of the BMA’s GP committee said: "Encouraging patients to self-care is an important part of a wider strategic approach that is desperately needed to reduce the pressure on NHS services. GP practices in particular are under intense strain from a combination of rising patient demand, especially from an ageing population with complex health needs, increased care moving into the community, and declining funding. Despite this difficult environment, GPs are working harder than ever before, delivering an estimated 340 million GP consultations each year, but we do need to find new ways of relieving pressure on over stretched local services."