Schools and childcare providers are being told that children with conjunctivitis do not need to see a practice nurse or a GP, as part of a bid to reduce unnecessary primary care appointments.
An estimated 160,000 appointments could be freed up if schools stopped sending home children with infective conjunctivitis, according to the Royal College of General Practitioners.
“Cases are clogging up the system, which leads to longer waiting times for patients”
The college said conjunctivitis cases were unintentionally “clogging up” the system because some schools were refusing to let in pupils with the eye condition unless they had a prescription for antibiotics, leaving many other patients struggling to see their GP or practice nurse.
Clinical guidance from Public Health England that treatment for conjunctivitis is only appropriate or necessary in severe cases, the RCGP highlighted.
It argued that if all nursery schools followed the correct clinical guidance, it would enable practices to focus their time on patients “most in need” and support the ongoing global effort to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
A study, published earlier this year in the British Journal of General Practice, found that 86.7% of nursery schools across England, Scotland and Wales currently excluded children with conjunctivitis from attending, while 49.4% refused to admit them without a prescription for antibiotics.
To mark the beginning of national Self Care Week, the RCGP has written to the schools inspectorate OFSTED, calling for nursery, pre-schools and childcare providers to re-think their policy.
It has also produced a leaflet of “top tips” to help teachers, childcare professionals and parents make the “right decisions” about the care of young children with the eye infection.
The leaflet states that, in the majority of cases, the condition will clear up on its own within two weeks, or can be treated with over the counter lubricant eye drops or anti-allergy medication.
Most cases will not require antibiotics and there is little evidence to show that they help the condition any more than waiting for it clear up naturally, noted the leaflet.
RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: “We’re sure that nurseries and schools mean well by sending children home, or requiring them to take antibiotics, as a way of trying to contain cases of conjunctivitis.
But she said: “GP practices are being swamped with requests for appointments and antibiotics to treat minor conditions, including conjunctivitis, and these cases are clogging up the system, which leads to longer waiting times for patients whose needs might be more urgent.
“It would be incredibly helpful if nursery schools would change their current policy on children with conjunctivitis to… reduce unnecessary consultations at a time when patients are finding it more and more difficult to get an appointment,” said Dr Baker.
“We hope that OFSTED can put steps in place to ensure that the correct clinical guidance is followed, in the interests of all our patients,” she added.