Patient empowerment is vital

The President of the Self Care Forum marks the start of Self Care Week with a message to the system as to why its so important to patients:

‘Think self care for life’ is the theme for Self Care Week this year.

To coincide with this the Self Care Forum has produced an easy to use e-learning package to help pharmacists, nurses, GPs and other professionals to include self care messages in all their contacts.

As a GP, I discovered over 30 years ago that self care is better care. People want to look after themselves as well as they can and want to be reassured they are getting it right. By including self care messages in as many contacts as possible we can help them achieve this.

We can help people understand what they can do to take care of their own health better. We can also help people make safe decisions on when and how to self-treat common symptoms, understand when it is safer to seek help or advice and where to get that advice, whether it’s online, a pharmacy, NHS 111, a surgery or A&E.

This is true “patient empowerment”. This term is used a lot but GPs often say they don’t have time in their busy, pressurised days to include it.

It seems to be so much easier to simply diagnose, treat and move on to the next patient. But it need not take long to include self care awareness. As health professionals we owe it to our patients and our profession to help them to be able to self-treat and prevent illness as part of our interactions with them.

Our online course helps professionals achieve this within the limits of a 10 minute consultation. Making every contact count is a wonderful philosophy and, by empowering our patients in every contact we can help people to help themselves – safely.

As confidence in self care improves, ‘people’ are less likely to become patients. They also become less dependent on the NHS. Dependency is habitual and once you help them to break that cycle, it can lead to significant health benefits.

There is a growing self care movement, helped by the work of the Self Care Forum, with increasing numbers of clinical commissioning groups, surgeries, pharmacies, NHS Trusts and councils becoming more proactive and innovative about supporting people to look after their own physical health and mental wellbeing better.

During National Self Care Week, which is run by the Self Care Forum, traditional health and care organisations are joined by a huge range of groups and individuals such as schools, universities, businesses, parks and gyms across the country to raise awareness about what people can do for themselves.

In the eight years since the Self Care Forum has been supporting people-facing organisations, self care has come on in leaps and bounds. But, there is still some way to go and we, as professionals, can play a vital role in helping to progress self care and make it a success for everyone.

This free e-learning resource, entitled “Successful self care aware consultations”, can help. Developed in partnership with health professionals and commissioned by NHS England, the resource is available on the E-Learning for Health (e-LfH) platform. Its aim is to equip healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to conduct a ‘self-care aware’ consultation, with a focus on self-treatable conditions.

It particularly helps to support healthcare professionals to follow the NHS England/NHS Clinical Commissioners ‘Guidance on conditions for which over the counter items should not routinely be prescribed in Primary Care’. A range of useful links and references are included.

  • For more information about the Self Care Forum, National Self Care Week or “Successful self care aware consultations” contact the Self Care Forum.
Dr Pete Smith

Dr Pete Smith OBE has been a GP for over 20 years in Kingston upon Thames and in 2019 he retired from the practice he set up which has been exemplary in addressing health inequalities in a deprived area.
Peter was previously Vice Chair of the Association of Independent Multifunds, helped set up one of the first multifunds and with other colleagues set up Thamesdoc, the first night rota co-operative in the London area.

He previously edited Guide to the Guidelines, the first collection of national disease management guidelines, has co-authored guidelines on inflammatory bowel disease and learning disabilities and has recently edited ‘The Handbook of Primary Care Trusts’.

He was co-chair of the Self Care Forum between 2016-2019 when he stepped down for health reasons although he remains on the board.

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