Campaign launched urging parents to think pharmacist first
A health campaign is being launched urging parents to treat their local pharmacist as their first port of call for minor illnesses in their children, instead of visiting their GP or A&E.
NHS England said there are 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E for self-treatable conditions every year, at a cost of £850 million to the NHS.
Instead, millions of parents could get more convenient and timely expert advice by taking their concerns to their local pharmacist first, which would also ease pressure on GPs and accident and emergency services.
NHS England said research has shown just 6% of parents 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%) would opt for an appointment with their GP while 5% of those questioned would choose emergency care as their first port of call.
This is despite an overwhelming majority of adults (79%) saying they are aware that pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals who can give advice on most common illnesses.
NHS England said around 95% of people live within a walk of a local community pharmacy, meaning they are an accessible and valuable first port of call for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds or teething troubles.
The NHS is working with community pharmacies to increase the range of patient services they provide, including asthma audits and flu vaccinations.
Figures released from a pilot study last week show more than 1,200 patients who called NHS 111 over the winter have been seen by pharmacists instead of GPs or being sent to A&E.
The six month trial in the north east of the country allows NHS 111 operators to refer appropriate non-emergency patients to community pharmacies during late night, weekend and out-of-hours periods.
The call to get parents to use their local pharmacist first is part of the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign, which also features TV, digital and social media advertising and is being supported by parenting website Netmums.
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."
Netmums editor-in-chief Annie O'Leary 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 can assess your child's symptoms and provide clinical advice, or simply provide reassurance that it is nothing more serious."