The earlier, the better

Gill Hawksworth webby  Gill Hawksworth MBE, FRPharmsS and RPS Faculty Fellow

Patients sometimes end up in A&E or being admitted to hospital because they have soldiered on with a health problem rather than getting advice from a health professional.

Some patients almost need permission to ask for help. In particular, older people, often some of our most conscientious users of the NHS, can be reluctant to ‘bother the doctor’. Community pharmacists are ideal health advisors as we are approachable, easily accessible and spend a lot of time advising and treating people with common health complaints before they get worse and escalate to the point where they need more serious treatment.

This is why I’m so delighted about the new The earlier, the better campaign from NHS England, which encourages the public to seek advice for minor ailments from their community pharmacy.

I have waited a long time for a good public awareness campaign about what community pharmacists can offer and just like buses they come along all at once.

No sooner had the Dispensing Health campaign got off the blocks last week, when The earlier, the better campaign launched with lots of advertising, it’s own webpage and resources for pharmacists. The eight-week campaign encourages people to get help for a health problem sooner rather than later. The aim is to help nip health problems in the bud and reduce unnecessary stays in hospital, following the NHS England’s urgent and emergency care review. This highlighted the need to improve care outside of hospital and to increase public understanding of the alternatives to A&E because of the rising number of emergency admissions to hospital that could have been avoided.

Many people are not aware that they can get advice on minor health problems from their local community pharmacy service. Expert help can be provided to people for them to manage their long-term conditions or for things such as a bad cough, wheezing, a cold or sore throat. Many pharmacies have longer opening hours than the average GP practice and most have a private consultation area. If people need to see a doctor, they will be advised accordingly.
The earlier, the better public awareness campaign targets people aged over 60 years old and carers of older people, encouraging more use of the self-care information about minor health problems and illnesses on the website NHS Choices, but importantly to make more use of the services available in community pharmacies.

I’m so pleased to see this campaign, because I know that pharmacists and their well-trained staff are not only able to give advice, but also able to tell you if something needs more urgent medical attention from your GP, or even your local hospital. It is best to seek this accessible advice from the pharmacy early, when you first have a problem, rather than waiting until it becomes more serious, or having to go to hospital when the problem could have been managed earlier.