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If you want something done properly…


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Friday, 30 July 2010

If you want something done properly…

Here at NHS Networks, we’re big believers in the power of the individual. In a system that is often beset by top-down, hierarchical bureaucracy, we have been bravely waving the flag of individualist entrepreneurialism in the NHS for some time.

We think if we give our users the tools to talk and share things with each other, they are far better placed to come up with the goods than we are.

So it won’t be a surprise to hear that we’re also big believers in the idea of self care. In March this year, the self care campaign group published Self care: An ethical imperative – a report that outlines the cost of our ever-increasing tendency to run to the NHS every time we graze a knee or catch a cold.

“Seeing a GP for ailments that can be self-treated is estimated to cost an astonishing £2bn every year”, the report says. “We are now a society in which the common disturbances to normal good health, such as coughs and colds, are accounting for nearly one fifth of GP workload. The 57 million consultations for minor ailments are testament to an NHS addressing demand rather than need, the founding principle of the service.”

There has been a move over many years towards doing things for yourself that would previously have been done for you, and the main benefit is usually that it’s quicker. Memos previously dictated, sent to the typing pool and returned a day later are now emails typed directly by their author.

Why wait in a long queue for the cashier, when you could opt for the self-service checkout or stay at home and order your shopping online?

The same arguments apply to self-care. Rather than waiting to see a GP who won’t be able to do more than advise rest, paracetamol and plenty of fluids, your pharmacist or NHS Direct could advise on the plethora of products that are available to put the power of healing back into your hands.

It is not that people don’t already know this – it’s that the confidence to care for oneself relies on the confidence GPs have in promoting that as an option. Where we’ve all been frightened by That Internet into believing that our cough is really a precursor to something life-threatening, GPs need to re-educate their patients into knowing where to find trustworthy advice to distinguish the worrying from the everyday, without booking an appointment at the practice or, worse still, showing up at A&E.

In last week’s editorial we rather churlishly suggested that the Big Society could lead to a lot more people dressing up as doctors and nurses. That may have been more prescient than we imagined.