“The earlier, the better” say top doctors as NHS England launches first public awareness campaign

NHS England will next week launch its first national public-awareness campaign in a bid to persuade people not to store up health problems and to seek advice early.

The eight-week campaign – called The earlier, the better – starts on Monday 20 January and aims to help nip health problems in the bud and reduce unnecessary stays in hospital.

It follows NHS England’s urgent and emergency care review, published in November last year, which highlighted the rising number of emergency admissions to hospital that could have been avoided.

The review also highlighted the need to improve care outside of hospital and to increase public understanding of the alternatives to A&E.

Since last November NHS England’s most senior clinicians have been encouraging people to seek help early over the winter period.

Their biggest concern has been the rising number of older and frail people who are admitted to hospital because of respiratory or other chronic conditions usually worsened by immobility, the cold and viral illnesses (see attached research).

They say the answer lies in better self and family care, early recognition of illness and urgent access to medication, primary and community care.

Next week’s awareness campaign will target people aged over 60 years old, as well as the carer’s of older people. It will in particular encourage more use of the self-care information about minor ailments and illnesses on the website NHS Choices, as well as more use of the services available in community pharmacies.

The public will see posters on bill boards, bus stops, shopping malls and supermarkets, including sites near pharmacies. Adverts will also be run in national newspapers, magazines and range of websites, as well as on commercial radio stations. Posters are being sent to pharmacy services for display.

Many people are not aware that they can get advice on minor ailments from their local community pharmacy service. Expert help can be provided to people for them to manage their long-term conditions or for ailments such as a bad cough, wheezing, a cold or sore throat. Many pharmacies have longer opening hours than the average GP practice, and most have a private consultation area. If people need to see a doctor, they will be advised accordingly.

Professor Keith Willett, NHS England’s Director for Acute Care, said:

“As a clinician who has spent some 30 years working in the urgent care system I am really pleased to see a serious attempt to reach out to the public on this issue.

“We see in our hospitals so many people who have not had or sought the help they need early enough.  We have to do better at helping people stay well, not just picking up the pieces when they fall seriously ill.

“Too many people make the mistake of soldiering on, losing the opportunity to nip things in the bud.  Unfortunately this can lead to an unnecessary stay in hospital, particularly for the more frail elderly and those with long-term conditions.

“So if you feel under the weather, why not pop into the local pharmacy, visit or call NHS 111 for advice on what to do.  If the symptoms do not go away, then go and see your GP. Of course if it’s an emergency then go to A&E.

“’The message ‘the earlier, the better’ is crucial for our patients.  The NHS has not spent enough time broadcasting that message in the past. I would urge the public to listen and act: it’s the right thing to do for you and the NHS.”

Clare Howard, Deputy Chief Pharmaceutical Officer at NHS England, said:

“Pharmacists and their teams are well trained and well placed to be able to offer advice to people seeking help. They can provide medicines’ advice and support for minor ailments, advise you about how to manage a long term condition and tell you if something needs more urgent medical attention from your GP, or even your local hospital.

“Many members of the public already use their Pharmacist in these ways. More people could seek help from their Pharmacist when they first have a problem rather than waiting until it becomes more serious, or having to go to hospital when the problem could have been managed earlier.”