How to avoid GP wait lists by using other health advisers, says Dr Sara

THE NHS is under extreme pressure, and like every other GP around the country I’m doing my best.

The demand for appointments is up 31 per cent compared with pre-pandemic levels.

There are waiting lists at lots of surgeries, with patients wanting to register.

And I see people every week who put off making an appointment in the last year for fear the NHS was too busy coping with Covid.

While we work as hard as we can, it’s worth remembering GPs aren’t the only people who can help.

A lot of the cases I see in front of me actually don’t need a doctor and could have been sorted a lot sooner.

For starters, not many people remember they can ask their pharmacist for advice for minor illnesses.

Long gone are the awkward conversations at the front desk with everyone in earshot. Now, they have private consulting rooms where you can explain your issue.

Pharmacists are trained to advise on self-help methods to help you manage your symptoms. And they can advise on over-the-counter treatments, too.

If you’re not sure who you need to see, your pharmacist will be able to identify if there are any red flags – serious symptoms – and will send you to the GP if they are concerned.

The types of conditions a pharmacist can help with include coughs, colds, hay fever, rashes and headaches.

The bonus is they can often offer the same treatments we GPs can, but without the waiting time.

Since 2006, some pharmacists have taken extra qualifications, which means they can prescribe for conditions within their clinical competence.

Prescribing pharmacists can also administer vaccines including ones needed for some travel and the flu.

Very few patients seem to know about them, or make use of their services.

Not every pharmacy has a prescribing pharmacist but it’s worth finding your nearest one, as the idea was developed to ease the burden GPs are facing with growing patient numbers.

As well as pharmacists, most GP surgeries will have physician’s associates. These are people who have a bioscience-related degree and two years’ training.

PHARMACIES

They often work with GPs or in A&E and are trained to take medical histories, perform physical examinations, diagnose illnesses, help manage patients with long-term conditions and analyse test results.

The only thing they can’t do is prescribe medication and refer patients themselves – and they have to work under the supervision of a doctor.

Then there are nurse practitioners – they are often worth their weight in gold to a busy GP surgery.

Practice nurses often have specific subsets of skills for the practice and can run programmes for patients who need them.

Their responsibilities can include cervical screening, vaccinations and immunisations, stitch removals, reviews for long-term health conditions such as diabetes, asthma or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and they can help with smoking cessation courses.

Nurse practitioners have undertaken extra training and education, which allows them to diagnose and treat patients with just a few exceptions – those under the age of two, pregnant women and certain complex conditions. They can also write prescriptions.

Finally, while it might feel like the receptionist who takes your call is just being nosey and asking what’s wrong, often they are trying to triage you – and find the most suitable member of staff for you to see.

Often while a patient might think they need to see a GP, they can be seen and helped by a nurse practitioner or physician’s associate – and often on the same day.

So before you automatically ask for a GP appointment, which might mean you have to wait a week or two, start with your local pharmacist and go from there.

Making the most of all these different experienced medics might help us all reduce the backlog GPs are facing.

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