Over the winter, health services including your local GP are often stretched to the limit with an increased number of patients and appointments. This winter season in particular has seen hospitals struggling to accommodate the number of patients.
To help ease the strain, the Royal College of GPs is asking the public to remember the slogan “3 Before GP” when you’re feeling under the weather. In essence, it asks the public to consider the other options available to them before booking in to see their GP. By heeding their advice, you’ll be helping to keep those vital appointments free for patients with serious illnesses who might otherwise miss out on care.
Before you pick up the phone to book a GP appointment, take five minutes to answer these three questions. Could I…
- Step 1: Self care?
- Step 2: Use reliable online information or UK resources, such as NHS Choices, to find out how to solve my problem?
- Step 3: Get advice and/or treatment from a local pharmacist?
If you’ve answered these questions with a no, go ahead and book the appointment.
Step 1: Self Care
Many winter ailments can be treated at home, or with the help of online resources or your local pharmacist. Take a look at EPCOOH’S guide to self care to help you find the resources you need.
Taking the time to ensure you’re looking after yourself can greatly reduce your symptoms and speed up your recovery. You can also use remedies such as those listed below to ease common winter symptoms.
- Recovery from winter colds can be helped with plenty of rest and sleep, staying warm, and drinking lots. You should start to feel better after about a week.
- Cold air can trigger asthma attacks – if you have asthma, try avoiding heading outside on very cold, windy days.
- Cold weather can also cause arthritic joints to feel more painful. To boost your mood, try some gentle exercise such as swimming to release endorphins. You can also use hot water bottles and heat packs to ease pain in certain areas.
- If you’re suffering from a sore throat, try dissolving a teaspoon of salt in a glass of partially-cooled boiled water, and gargling with it. Salt water can help ease inflammation- but won’t cure the infection.
- If you have contracted norovirus (winter vomiting bug), make sure you drink plenty of fluids to replace what you’re losing and prevent you getting dehydrated.
Step 2: Online and Other Health Resources
The UK has a number of reliable online sources of health information. You can use these to get an idea of what your symptoms might be, and some common care instructions, before booking in to see your GP.
If you urgently need healthcare advice or directions, but it isn’t an emergency, NHS 111 is a free service that is designed to make it easier to access urgent medical help. Simply dial 111 from the UK and you will be put through to trained advisors who will ask questions to determine what kind of help you need.
They can direct you to local services that can help, give you health advice, and immediately send an ambulance if they think it is required.
NHS Choices is the official advice site of the NHS. A great starting point is the Winter Health category page, which has pages of symptoms and advice about the common cold, winter vomiting bugs such as norovirus, seasonal flu, and general winter health tips.
The site also has information on the most common conditions and their treatments on its Health A-Z page.
Other Useful Websites
- NHS Stop Smoking – smokefree.nhs.uk
- Alcoholics Anonymous – www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk
- Department of Health – www.dh.gov.uk
- Samaritans – www.samaritans.org.uk
- Counseling Directory – www.counselling-directory.org.uk
Step 3: Pharmacy Advice and Treatment
Pharmacists in the UK can do a lot more than just dispense prescription medication. They are a great first port of call for minor symptoms to see whether you need to get a GP appointment.
You don’t need an appointment to see a pharmacist- just walk in. They can give you advice and recommend treatments for common illnesses including colds, coughs, earache, sore throats, skin rashes, constipation, head lice, cystitis, period pain, and nappy rash. If they think your symptoms are more severe, they might recommend you get a GP appointment to follow up.
Pharmacies in some parts of the UK have an NHS minor ailment scheme, and can provide you with medicine at no cost, without a GP referral. The medicines that are covered by this depend on which area in the UK you live.
Thank you for completing your “3 before GP”. You’ve helped free up vital appointments for those who need them the most.