Patients are encouraged to check they need to see a GP before making an appointment
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) are urging the public to take up the “three before GP” mantra, asking them to first see whether their problem could be dealt with through self-care, seeking help from reputable online resources or getting assistance from a pharmacist.
The call comes as GP leaders said there are not enough family doctors working in England and that practices are closing at an “alarming rate”.
Pledges to increase the GP workforce by 5,000 by 2021 are in “jeopardy”, RCGP chairwoman Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard warned.
Professor Stokes-Lampard said GPs “really feel the pinch” over the winter period as she urged people to “think” before picking up the phone to call their surgery for an appointment.
Patients should first see a pharmacist instead of going straight to their GP
Of course for many things you’ll still be phoning the GP and that’s fine – that’s what we’re here for. But if just 10 per cent of people didn’t come and see their GP, but did one of those three things, that would make a huge difference.
She said: “Three before GP’ is a quick way to summarise to people to think – before you come to the GP surgery for an appointment have you done these three basic things: Self-care – so can I look after this myself?
“Then using online resources like NHS Choices – a reputable source of online information. In years gone by we’d have said look in the family health book but now it is an online resource.
“The third is seeking advice via a pharmacist.
“We’re just asking people to stop and think, when you reach for the phone to book a GP appointment think: ‘Can I do this myself? Do I need some online help? Could a pharmacists help me?’
Overworked GPs can’t keep up with patient demand
“Of course for many things you’ll still be phoning the GP and that’s fine – that’s what we’re here for.
“But if just 10 per cent of people didn’t come and see their GP, but did one of those three things, that would make a huge difference.
“It would give us the capacity to deal with those who really need our help at a difficult time for the whole NHS.”
She said GPs believe up to a quarter of appointments could be avoidable or sorted out by another means.
Check online for advice before you go to a GP
She said: “Today over a million people will be seeing a GP.
“If 100,000 of those were seen elsewhere, the difference that would make, the time it would allow us to spend with other people.”
The practising GP, who works in the Midlands, added that pharmacies are “ready and set up” for an influx of patients.
“We’re used to [pharmacies] dispensing prescribed medication or being somewhere we go to buy over the counter medication but it is easy to forget what a brilliant source of advice and wisdom they can offer the population which is why we can include them in this list,” she said.
Professor Stokes-Lampard raised concerns over workforce issues and added: “We don’t have enough GPs.
“The promise of 5,000 additional GPs [in England] by 2021 is in jeopardy at the moment.
“We’re 18 months into a plan and things aren’t going well.
“In fact the number of GPs have dropped by over 600 in the last six months in England.
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“There are measures being put in place to train more GPs – and in fairness there are now more doctors training to be GPs than ever before, but that takes time to come through the system.
Neal Patel, pharmacist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, in light of the remarks, added: “Pharmacists are the experts on medicines and can help people with both questions about winter bugs as well as concerns about side effects of prescription medicines.
“Even if it’s a cough or a cold, don’t wait until it gets more serious. Seek advice from your pharmacist.
“Crucially, pharmacists can help you decide when that worrying symptom is something you can manage yourself or when you should seek help, which is especially important over the holidays when your GP surgery may be closed.”
An NHS England spokesman said: “We do need more GPs, and although encouragingly newly qualified doctors are now choosing GP training at near record levels, this is being partly offset by early retirements so the NHS is also stepping up international recruitment.”