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Minor ailments "cost NHS £2bn a year"

People who pay a visit to the doctor for minor ailments cost the NHS an "astonishing" £2bn each year, leading physicians have claimed.

A letter to The Times by signatories including Professor David Haslam, former Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, and Dr Michael Dixon, Chairman of the NHS Alliance, said such groups were having a "catastrophic impact" on the service, with common conditions now accounting for almost a fifth of GP appointments.

They claimed the health service was being held hostage by a "demand-led culture", which witnessed it attend to 51.4 million unnecessary consultations each year, adding that a change was needed to save time and resources.

"A shift in behaviour around treating minor ailments could save the NHS this money without any cuts to services whatsoever," said the letter.

To help overcome the problem, the group is launching a Self Care Campaign, which aims to "educate people to manage minor ailments so that GPs and practice nurses' time is freed up to look after more complex conditions".

Copyright © Press Association 2010

The Times

Your comments (terms and conditions apply):

"I fully agree with Anne about educating patients but we all have surely been trying to do this for many years and we know it is not as simple as it sounds. We also now live in a demand culture and with patient satisfaction surveys to complete etc our hands are tied because we have to be seen to be giving what the patient wants" - Stephanie Moustache

"Like Anne, I am a nurse practitioner in primary care and out of hours which should be for 'urgent' things only. Our waiting room is constantly standing room only and I often struggle to
find anything wrong with the vast majority of 'patients'.  I have noticed an accelerating increase in demand and total inability of patients to be responsible for either themselves or their children's health. Added to this the public's increasing inability to cope with even very minor complaints is overwhelming our first contact services. It is not fair that other areas of health care, such as elderly care, are suffering because of the enormous amounts of money spent on providing services for what is fast becoming a 'hypochondriac's charter!' I agree with Anne that we should not be providing self-care medication - unless in exceptional circumstances - and should not have to treat people just to reassure them that they are perfectly healthy!" - Name and address supplied

"Self-care education long overdue. Patients expect GPs and practice nurses to deal with trivial problems on a daily basis which take appointment times away from more serious problems" - Elizabeth Kane

"I am a full time ANP in primary care, it is amazing how many people insist on being seen with children when they have a cold, 'just to be sure' - it's crazy. People generally take no responsibility at all for their own health, I think that any remedies for minor illness that are available OTC should not be allowed on FP10, it would cut down visits to the surgery so much if people could not get these products free. I constantly have to debate with parents - they all want a bottle of Calpol on a script to keep at home just in case little Johnny is ill. Even when there is nothing the matter with them" - Anne Robinson, Kidderminster