‘Go to pharmacist, not GP or A&E’ – NHS England campaign slammed as dangerous

Junior doctors block Whitehall during their strike – doctors oppose NHS England’s new dangerous ‘Stay Well Pharmacy’ campaign
Junior doctors block Whitehall during their strike – doctors oppose NHS England’s new dangerous ‘Stay Well Pharmacy’ campaign

TAKE your sick children to see the pharmacist, rather than the GP or to an A&E. . . this is the message of a new NHS England campaign, rightly slammed by doctors as ‘dangerous’. Meanwhile it has been suggested that to ‘save time’ and ‘ease pressure’ those who do go to see their GP should be seen in groups of up to 15 rather than in a private consultation.

NHS England’s campaign is ironically called ‘Stay Well Pharmacy’ and uses TV ads and posters to urge patients to visit their local pharmacist to ‘help save the NHS money’.

BMA member Anna Athow said: ‘This recommendation is dangerous. For children with quite serious conditions like sepsis, it can appear that they have a minor illness. However we know that thousands of patients every year with sepsis have their diagnosis missed and their lives are lost.

‘It can be very difficult for parents to know if their children’s illness is serious, they are not doctors and nor is a pharmacist. The rule must be that if the parent is worried then the child must be taken to see a doctor. ‘This is a further plan by NHS England to stop patients from accessing GPs and A&E departments. ‘Any patient over the age of 55 who develops persistent stomach aches for the first time must be investigated properly, it could be the first symptoms of cancer.’

On January 27, teenager Melissa Whiteley, passed away at Glenfield Hospital in Leicester surrounded by her loved-ones – including her twin sister Megan.

She had the symptoms of a cold on Christmas Day, which got worse and worse but her family did not take her to hospital. When she was finally admitted a week later, tests revealed she was suffering from sepsis, flu, pneumonia and a fungal infection. The 18-year-old from Hanford, Staffordshire, was placed in an induced coma but did not recover and died one month later.

Her mother Sharon Whiteley said: ‘We couldn’t believe it. We knew that if you just have a cold, they don’t want you in A&E because you could pass more germs on or could waste their time but I would say to anyone if you’re not sure, go. You’re not wasting time, make sure and get it checked out.’

Commenting on the NHS England campaign, Rachel Power of the Patients Association said: ‘The timing is not a coincidence. The pressures facing the NHS after years of underfunding and mismanagement of its workforce create a huge incentive to discourage people from using GPs or A&E.

‘Often people will be right to use alternatives, but we don’t want to hear of more cases where someone has stayed away and subsequently come to serious harm because they were in fact seriously ill.’

Royal College of GPs chairwoman Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard said that while pharmacists are ‘highly-skilled medical professionals’ they are ‘not of course GPs and in an emergency or situation where genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance, particularly if parents see potentially serious symptoms in their child such as a very high temperature that doesn’t respond to simple measures, features of dehydration or lethargy.’

Meanwhile group appointments for GPs have already been piloted. Slough in Berkshire, London, Birmingham, Manchester, Sheffield, Newcastle and Northumberland have all run joint GP sessions.

Up to 15 patients who have the same long-term condition, such as arthritis or diabetes, are taking part in 90-minute ‘shared’ consultations – with their test results shown at the front of the room.

The sessions, led by family doctors or nurses, are replacing shorter one-to-one appointments. On this, Athow said: ‘This is shoddy and shocking, breaching patient confidentiality and depersonalising care, when they sold these reforms as personalisation.’