During the early phase of Covid-19 Lockdown the UK used a campaign designed to ‘Protect the NHS’. This was well received and the positive response from the public with regard to the NHS was significant. We are now in a different phase of response, but I imagine that most people would still wish to do what they can to protect health services.
What does this now mean though? What can we all do to continue to protect the NHS as we approach this Winter?
Here are my top 10 tips for things to do to protect the NHS.
- Continue to follow all Government guidance with regard to Covid-19.
Please do not forget that the virus has not gone away. We should all still be distancing from others, washing our hands regularly, wearing facial coverings where appropriate, isolating ourselves and our households when needed, and getting tested if you have symptoms of Covid-19 (a high temperature, a new, continuous cough, a loss or change to your sense of smell or taste).. All of this guidance can be found here and it might be worthwhile reminding yourself of it: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus
- Know how to access the NHS when you need to
The NHS is open for business, but things are not the same as they were before the Pandemic started. I wrote about this in my last blog, and it’s really important that you understand this. In summary, NHS 111 is a good place to start and can direct you to the right service for you. Your GP surgery is open, and has been throughout this time – check their website for opportunities for electronic, on-line consultation and you can, of course, ring them. For accidents or emergencies, A&Es are open and can see you. For life threatening emergencies it remains appropriate to call 999.
My previous blog can be found here: https://drjongriffiths.wordpress.com/2020/07/24/coronavirus-covid-19-new-normal/
- Understand what to expect from your GP at the moment.
As per the previous point, please know that the NHS is still here for you. Things have changed though. Do not expect to be able to directly book a face to face appointment with your GP. All practices are employing a ‘total triage’ system which means that you will need to speak to a clinician before being offered a face to face appointment. Please remember that we all need to continue to follow social distancing guidance, and we are therefore only bringing people into the surgery when this is required. Many things can be managed over the phone or via video consultation, so please do not dismiss these as second rate options. If we can deal with things over phone or video then we will. If we feel that seeing you face to face is required, then we will. There is increasing use of electronic consultations. In some practices all patients are encouraged to use these systems when approaching the surgery, in other practices it is just an additional option for you. Check out your practice’s website – it should be clear on there. Electronic consultations are a good option if you have a query, or need a sick note extension and you can usually attach files such as photographs of skin lesions or blood pressure readings that you might have done at home. Give it a try. Please do not think that just because you cannot directly see your GP face to face that the only way to get seen is to go to A&E. If you need to be seen, this can be arranged.
- Understand what to expect from routine hospital out-patient services
If you are referred to the hospital to see a consultant in Out Patients, then please be aware that there are significant backlogs. There were several weeks during the pandemic when hospital out patients stopped happening. All are resuming now, but things have been difficult and we are not up to full capacity yet. Just like in General Practice there are increased numbers of consultations taking place over the phone. Please be ready for this. Most of all, expect that you may well have a longer wait than usual. Please be patient. If you feel that your condition has changed, this would be appropriate to raise with your GP, but please try to avoid pushing for an earlier appointment otherwise. Everyone is in the same situation.
- Don’t put things off because of fear of catching Covid19
General Practice is really quite busy now, and this is in part because we are now seeing people who decided to wait until after the pandemic. What we really don’t want is to find that people have put off attending with serious symptoms because they feared they would be at risk of catching the virus by coming to the doctor. If have worrying symptoms, please contact your surgery. If you are worried about the risks of coming to us, then discuss this with your doctor who can explain what they are doing to keep everyone safe.
- Continue to self-care when you can
Many common, self-limiting conditions do not need a doctor. This has been very well demonstrated during the pandemic where we have seen a significant decrease in people presenting with coughs, colds and other minor ailments. Please continue to do what you can to look after yourself. NHS 111 on line is a great resource with lots of information there to help you and clear guidance around when you should seek help. https://111.nhs.uk/
- Don’t ask for things from the NHS that you can get from the pharmacy
If we really want to protect the NHS, then let’s look at how we can reduce some of the costs. There are costs associated with every patient contact, so reducing the number of these as per point 6 is important. There are also clearly costs associated with drugs and prescriptions. There are lots of things that you can buy without a prescription. Some good examples would be simple painkillers like paracetmol (I bought some yesterday for 29p), hayfever medication (tablets, nasal spray and eye drops) and treatments for skin conditions including eczema/dry skin, athletes foot and other fungal skin conditions. Go and have a chat with your pharmacist, or look on the shelves of the supermarkets.
- Look after your Mental Health
It is clear that many people have found the impact of Covid-19 has adversely affected their mental health. We have seen a rise in people seeking help and support for their mental health both to General Practice and to specialist services. There is much support available for you if you are struggling. For those living in Cheshire, as I do, then a good place to look for help would be the website of the local mental health provider, CWP. This is the link here: http://www.cwp.nhs.uk/contact/need-urgent-help/local-support-services/. This link provides signposting for help for anyone across Cheshire and Merseyside: https://kindtoyourmind.org/support-near-me/. In my blog of Feb 2019 I also provided a number of pointers around how to manage your mental health and I would encourage you to take a look: https://drjongriffiths.wordpress.com/2019/02/28/top-10-ways-to-improve-your-mental-health/
- Look after one another
One of the great things that was evident during lockdown was how communities came together to look after those in need. It’s so important that we don’t lose this. Together we are all stronger. Do you have a relationship with your neighbours? Have you just developed one during the pandemic? Now is the time to cement those relationships, both to ensure you can help your neighbours, and so that if needed they can help you. If you want to look to volunteer to help your community then why don’t you check out the NHS volunteer service here: https://volunteering.royalvoluntaryservice.org.uk/nhs-volunteer-responders? Regaining a sense of community could be one of the greatest things that comes out of the awfulness that has been Covid-19 – let’s embrace it.
- Live as healthily as you can
This should probably have been the first rather than the last point and perhaps it should go without saying, but if you live healthily, you will be less likely to develop preventable disease, and place less demand upon health services. I hope we all know what it means to live in a healthy way, but just to remind you:
- Ensure you are a healthy weight
- Don’t smoke
- Eat healthily
- Get enough sleep
- Take up the offers of health screening and immunisation
- Do not drink more alcohol than you should
I can’t stress these prompts enough and they are most definitely not an afterthought. IF you think you need to make changes to your lifestyle – then do it now.
So there you have my top 10 tips for how to protect the NHS. This will be so important over the winter we are approaching when we will have to deal with usual winter illnesses alongside Covid-19.
The message that the NHS is open for business still absolutely stands, and please do not interpret any of this to mean you should not access health services when you need to – instead it is about ensuring that you help us to help you by presenting to the right place at the right time with the right conditions that need additional help. No one wants to go to the doctor when they don’t need to – let’s all help each other to access help when we need to, and use other sources of help when we can.
Dr Jonathan is a GP in Winsford, Cheshire.
Contact Jonathan on social media @DrJonGriffiths