Three things you should do before trying to see your GP
Patients have been urged to take three simple steps before booking a GP appointment to help family doctors cope with soaring demand.
The Royal College of GPs (RCGP) is urging the public to take up the "three before GP" mantra.
1. Can you administer self-care?
2. Seek advice online from a service such as NHS Direct.
3. Consult 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".
RCGP chairwoman Professor Helen 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.
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?'
"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% 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."
"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.
"For example, yesterday in surgery people were coming in with indigestion - this is a classic one at this time of year, 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."
The practising GP 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 medicatio,n 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."