A meningitis charity has urged caution after the start of a major awareness campaign to encourage parents to “think pharmacist first” for minor illness in their children.
NHS England has today launched a major new public health campaign urging parents to consult local pharmacists for minor illnesses instead of a GP practice or accident and emergency department.
“We have real concerns about putting another step in the process of swift diagnosis”
The government arms’-length body argued that 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E for self-treatable conditions cost the NHS £850m per year.
Around 95% of people live within a walk of a local community pharmacy, making pharmacists “extremely accessible and a valuable first port of call” for minor health concerns, it said.
It added that the NHS nationally was working with community pharmacies to increase the range of services they provided, including asthma audits and flu vaccinations.
The call for the five million parents of children under five to use their local pharmacist first for advice forms part of the Stay Well Pharmacy campaign, which is backed by parenting website Netmums.
Government backs advisors’ call for new meningitis jab for teens
Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
A survey carried out for the campaign found the proportion of adult respondents who would get advice from a pharmacist for minor health concerns was only 16%, falling to just 6% for parents of young children.
NHS England said its Stay Well Pharmacy campaign would be supported by a TV and digital and social media advertising.
Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, highlighted that pharmacists were “highly trained NHS health professionals”.
He said: “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,” said Dr Warner.
“We want to help the public get the most effective use of these skilled clinicians who are available every day of the week,” he added.
But Dr Tom Nutt, chief executive of Meningitis Now, said: “We have real concerns about putting another step in the process of swift diagnosis for something like meningitis, which could result in valuable time lost.
“Some 40% of all Meningococcal B cases occur in children under the age of four, with symptoms which can mistaken for a cold, often developing at an alarming rate,” he noted.
“The worst possible scenario is a parent waiting to get help if the pharmacist was busy or if the pharmacy was closed,” he warned.