WHAT do you do when you or one of your family feels unwell?
Do you try to treat yourself? Ring NHS Direct? Book an appointment with your GP?
You may even decide the only option is to visit the emergency department or perhaps a minor injuries unit more suitable.
The default is very often the GP surgery, especially when we aren’t sure of what to do and what other choices are available but this may not necessarily be the most appropriate place to go.
In Wales we need to have more information available to signpost us to the best route for treatment when we fall ill or suffer an injury.
It can be incredibly confusing, particularly at the weekends to know what to do and where to go. If we want to see our emergency departments working more efficiently we must ensure that it is only patients who require urgent care who attend them.
There is much good work being carried out in ensuring that non urgent cases are referred elsewhere by the ambulance call centres, but there is more to be done.
We also know that there are a range of highly-skilled health professionals in our communities such as pharmacists, optometrists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists and community nurses, but we don’t always make full use of their expertise or we simply don’t know how to access their services.
Last week I met with community pharmacists who had some exciting and innovative ideas for extending the services to patients.
Pharmacists are the medicines experts available on every high street, so we should use them more.
One of their ideas is to roll out a minor ailments scheme where the pharmacist can prescribe for certain conditions.
This in turn could substantially reduce pressures on appointments at GP surgeries and this has been operating successfully in my region, Torfaen.
It has given patients access to treatment when it is needed, seven days a week in their local community. Essentially this service gives GPs the opportunity to deal with more serious problems and illnesses.
Not only that, Community Pharmacy claim that such a scheme could save up to £30m a year.
The Chartered Society of Physiotherapy is another organisation that is campaigning for improved direct access to healthcare professionals, such as physiotherapists and occupational therapists.
Self-referral gets faster access, without increased cost, and early intervention for lower back pain, for example, which can reduce recurrences and prevent lost working days and even more GP appointments.
It is patient centred, it saves valuable GP time. A self-referral pilot scheme is already running in Bridgend with some excellent results.
I see absolutely no reason why it can’t be delivered across Wales. It has the potential to benefit so many people in so many ways, both patients and healthcare professionals.
It’s a new year and a new chance to work hard to deliver a Health Service that really works. In the coming months I will be continuing to campaign to get the best out of the Welsh Health Service.
Article printed in the Western Mail