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Encouraging self-care within your practice can lessen the demand for minor ailment appointments

Written by Jordan Odell, Digital Marketing Executive

March 2010 saw the launch of the Self Care Campaign, which encourages individuals with minor ailments such as hay fever, insect bites and the common cold to visit their local pharmacy for advice and over-the-counter treatment rather than relying on their GP. As well as this, more is being done now within practices to lessen the demand for appointments including ‘active signposting’ and the training of reception and clerical staff.

GP resources are under significant pressure, as even though around 80% of all care in the UK is self-care, there are still 57 million GP consultations a year for minor ailments, according to the Self Care Forum. Many practices are attempting to reduce their workload by conducting phone consultations, improving internal processes, and taking on additional non-GP clinical staff to try to free up GP time.

These 57 million consultations equate to an hour per day per GP (at a cost to the NHS of £2 billion) yet can potentially be avoided, freeing up a significant amount of GP time. Finding an effective process to avoid them, however, is proving difficult.

Effect on GP Practices

MIAB’s Customer Relationship Executive, Katherine Baterip, has researched how appointments for minor ailments have affected the workload of GP practices. Speaking to front-line staff, she found that patient attitudes towards ailments vary drastically, as people perceive the severity of an issue differently. For example, some may believe a splinter is appointment-worthy, whereas others with a more serious illness may be concerned with wasting a GP’s time.

However, this is not purely down to ignorance, as patients may be unsure as to what constitutes an ‘appointment worthy’ issue, and when they should contact their GP.

Research by the Self Care Forum has shown that people often abandon self-care earlier than they need to, typically seeking the advice of a doctor within four to seven days. There are several underlying reasons that can contribute to patient uncertainty, such as:

  • Lack of confidence in understanding the normal progress of symptoms (e.g. a cold can last up to 14 days)
  • The perceived severity and duration of symptoms
  • Needing reassurance that nothing more serious is wrong
  • Wanting a prescription to ‘cure’ the illness, even though the same medicine may be available over-the-counter

By educating patients about these issues, it is hoped that practices can reduce demand for unnecessary appointments and increase (or lengthen) their use of self-care.

Effective Signposting

One method that GP practices use to promote self-care is by using ‘active signposting’. This involves providing patients with a first point of contact such as Receptionists and front-line staff who can request the reason for wishing to book an appointment, and then direct the patient towards the correct care route, such as self-care, a community pharmacy, in-house GP Pharmacist, nurse, or if appropriate, a GP appointment.

The aim of ‘active signposting’ is for patients to be involved with their own care, and therefore have a better understanding of what they need. It’s also an opportunity to reiterate that prevention is better than a cure.

Prescription Consultation

Alongside this, further steps have been taken recently with an ongoing consultation to stop GPs prescribing medication that is readily available over-the-counter. This includes new national guidelines stating that 18 treatments – including homeopathy and herbal treatments, which together cost taxpayers £141 million – should generally not be prescribed.

By introducing this campaign, the NHS are hoping to encourage patients to self-treat minor ailments that do not need an appointment for medication they can attain themselves.


Self-care, specifically funding training for reception and clerical staff has so far had a positive response, with NHS England stating that active signposting ‘frees up GP time, releasing about 5% of demand for GP consultations in most practices’. Reassuringly, the NHS have also committed to a total fund of £45 million to become available over the next five years (2016/17 – 2020/21) to develop the capabilities of the practice workforce for these new ways of working as part of the GP forward view.

Find out more

Practices interested in finding out more on self-care and how to benefit from educating patients, can take part in Self Care Week, an annual national awareness week that focuses on embedding support for self-care across communities, families and generations.

This year’s event takes place from 13-19 November 2017, with a theme of engaging and empowering people to look after their own health – “Embracing Self Care for Life”.