We must avoid using A & E over festive period unless totally necessary

By Dr Helen Webberley MBChB MRCGP MFSRH

Christmas is the season of excess – we do a bit more of everything. We spend more money, and pay for it in the following months; we drink more and eat more, and in most cases our bodies recover; we take more risks – physically, emotionally and sexually – and we rely on the NHS to pick up the pieces.

The result? Our NHS is bursting at the seams, we are constantly reminded that there are too few nurses, doctors wanting to retire early, operations being cancelled, too few hospital beds and not enough GP appointments to supply demand. And that’s just on a normal working day. Throw the excesses of Christmas into the mix, add reduced staff, due to family holidays, and the situation becomes critical.

If you glance round a very busy A&E department, it doesn’t take a medically trained person to realise that that room is not full of life-threatening accidents and medical emergencies. While some cases will indeed be authentic, A&E departments are filled with minor cuts and bruises, drunken injuries, sore ankles that have been going on for months and sore throats that will ease with a paracetamol – to name but a few.

“So many of these cases should be seeing their GP instead. However, if you speak to them, you may well find that the reason they are in A&E is that they can’t get an appointment. If you glance round a very busy GP waiting room, we begin to see a pattern emerging; as with the A&E department so many of those waiting to see their GP, just don’t need to be there.

Coughs, colds, sore throats, flu, sprains, spots, bites and toothache are all common conditions that I see day-in day-out but they are also conditions that, in most cases, do not actually need a GP’s input.

The practice nurse often deals with a lot of what we call ‘minor illness’, but in reality, these common conditions could all be treated, in the first instance, by our high street pharmacist. Pharmacists are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to identifying and treating minor illnesses as well as advising on chronic health conditions and medication.

As patients lose patience with not being able to access the services they want, the demand for instant access grows. This has fuelled an increase in private, low cost online services that offer GPs on demand, with email and Skype consultations providing patients with the immediate attention they are seeking.

Private medicine has traditionally been for the super rich paying super high monthly premiums. But with the rise of low cost online services, it is quickly becoming the affordable option for those who do not want to wait in line and ironically, this consumer driven semi privatisation of our healthcare services may well save our NHS.

So enjoy your Christmas, eat drink and be merry (and remember that your doctors and nurses will be doing the same!). BUT don’t eat too much, don’t drink too much and don’t use the NHS more than what it was intended for. It is absolutely fantastic that we have such a service to come to the rescue in our hour of need, but like the boy who cried wolf, using and abusing the system could well mean that one day, when we really need it, there will be no NHS to save us.

Dr Helen Webberley MBChB MRCGP MFSRH is the dedicated GP for www.oxfordonlinepharmacy.co.uk.

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