This is a transcript of my My View column that was published in the Doncaster Star on Monday 7 November, 2016
We all want the NHS to be there to help us when we need it, but have you also thought how you can help the NHS?
Over the next few weeks, health services in Doncaster will face increased demand as temperatures start to drop and more people get winter related illnesses.
But we can start to reduce the risk of getting ill by taking more individual responsibility for our health. Making some simple lifestyle changes like brushing our teeth regularly, eating healthily and building exercise into our daily routine will ultimately help the NHS.
As the old saying goes ‘an apple a day keeps the doctor away’. It might not be quite that simple, but the sentiment is correct. Because by starting to look after ourselves better, we can reduce our chances of becoming ill and of needing to see a healthcare professional.
Interestingly, around 80 per cent of care in the UK involves looking after ourselves. It’s going to become increasingly important as the NHS moves more towards becoming a service that helps people avoid getting ill, rather than one that primarily gets involved when they are.
A few small steps taken by more Doncaster people could make a real difference, such as taking over the counter medicines when you have common symptoms such as sore throats and colds. Many people already do this, but there are those who don’t, choosing instead to book an appointment with their GP that could have been used by someone who is really ill.
Why is self-care good for us? Because giving people confidence and information to look after themselves when they can, and visit the GP when they need to, gives them greater control of their own health and encourages healthy lifestyles that help prevent them getting ill in the long-term.
In many cases it’s possible to manage your minor ailments and thereby reduce the number of appointments in local surgeries, enabling GPs like me to focus on caring for higher risk patients, such as those with complex health problems and long-term conditions.
Crucially, making more cost-effective use of finite NHS resources allows money to be spent where it’s most needed and improve health outcomes. Also, taking increased personal responsibility for our health helps improve our health and well-being, enabling us to manage long-term conditions better when they do develop. This will support the long-term sustainability of the NHS.
Research suggests that, on average, we all experience nearly four symptoms every fortnight, with the three commonest being feeling tired/run down, headaches and joint pain. Most of these are managed in the community without needing professional healthcare.
Despite many people’s willingness to self-care, there are still over one million GP consultations a week for minor ailments. They cost the NHS £2 billion and take up, on average, an hour a day for every GP.
Think how much better that time could be spent on people with serious health problems