A campaign urging parents to head to their local pharmacist as their first port of call for minor illnesses in kids instead of their GP or A&E, has been criticised for not making it clear there are some instances when children need urgent medical attention.
NHS England said there are 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E for self-treatable conditions every year. As part of their new Stay Well Pharmacy campaign, they said parents could get “more convenient and timely expert advice” by going to their local pharmacist.
However other medical experts are arguing it could be dangerous to guide parents away from their GP, if they suspect their child’s symptoms could potentially be a sign of something serious.
“We welcome NHS England’s sensible guidance, but this should have been caveated,” said Dr Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust. “If a child has symptoms of infection but the parents are concerned and suspect their child might be more seriously unwell, it’s important that they are encouraged to trust their instincts.
“Parents with a child who seems unusually ill should call 111, check sepsis symptoms online and follow advice accordingly.”
Speaking about the campaign, Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice and effective treatments for a wide range of minor health concerns right there and then.”
“They can assess symptoms and recommend the best course of treatment or simply provide reassurance, for instance when a minor illness will get better on its own with a few days’ rest.
“However, if symptoms suggest it’s something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need. We want to help the public get the most effective use of these skilled clinicians who are available every day of the week.”
NHS England said they are working with community pharmacies to increase the range of patient services they provide, including asthma audits and flu vaccinations.
However Dr Daniels is not the only person voicing concerns that there are some instances - such as with sepsis, which if not diagnosed and treated quickly can rapidly lead to organ failure and death - when parents should treat the ‘pharmacist first ’ advice with caution and trust their instincts if they think there is something seriously going on with their child.
Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said while the campaign could ease pressures on family doctors, pharmacists are “not GPs”.
“In an emergency or situation where genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance, particularly if parents see potentially serious symptoms in their child such as a very high temperature that doesn’t respond to simple measures, features of dehydration or lethargy,” she told The Times.
“Ultimately they are best placed to identify when something really isn’t right with their child.”