The Royal College of GPs (RCGPs) has recommended Dr Google for the first time, as part of a new “three before GP” mantra to ease the pressure on surgeries.
Patients have been urged to follow three simple steps before booking a doctor’s appointment: see whether their problem could be dealt with through self-care, seek help from a reputable online source, or ask a pharmacist for assistance.
The call comes as GP leaders warn there are not enough family doctors working in England to cope with the soaring demand, and that practices are closing at an “alarming rate”.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the RCGP, said that GPs “really feel the pinch” over the winter period, as she said people need to “think” before picking up the phone to call their surgery for an appointment.
“‘Three before GP’ is a quick way to summarise to people to think,” she told the Press Association.
“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.”
She said that there are “of course” many thing which people will still need to speak to a GP about, adding “that’s what we’re here for”.
“But if just 10% of people didn’t come and see their GP, but did one of those three things, that would make a huge difference,” she said.
“It would give us the capacity to deal with those who really need our help at a difficult time for the whole NHS.”
Prof Lampard went on: “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?'”
She said that RCGP believe that up to a quarter of appointments could be avoidable or sorted out by another means.
While the RCGP have long advocated self-care and using reputable websites to increase people’s understanding of their health, this is the first time they have recommended it as part of a public campaign.
Credit: Anthony Devlin
When asked whether GPs will be able to cope this winter if patients don’t take these measures, she replied: “That’s the worry we have. We believe that up to a quarter of appointments could be avoidable or sorted out by another means.
“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. “
She said that indigestion is a “classic” affliction for this time of year, but people need not book a doctor’s appointment.
“People eat a bit too much, drink a bit too much, gain a bit of weight in the winter and develop indigestion and heartburn – that’s the sort of thing where a pharmacists could easily signpost them to a range of medications,” she said.
The practising GP, who works in the Midlands, added that pharmacies are “ready and set up” for an influx of patients.
“People underestimate how highly trained pharmacists are,” she added. “There are lots of initiatives and incentives there for pharmacists to offer these services and they get frustrated when people don’t use them in this way.
“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.”
Neal Patel, of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “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.
“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.”