With the NHS bursting at the seams, the last thing we needed was a flu outbreak. Since the beginning of winter 2017, statistics from Public Health England (PHE) have revealed that nearly 2000 people have been hospitalised with H3N2 or ‘Aussie flu’ and there have been 85 associated deaths.
While not the biggest outbreak we have experienced - the Spanish flu of 1918 is believed to have affected 500 million people, killing as many as 50 million globally - this particular epidemic comes at a time when hardly a day goes by without stories of the struggling NHS topping our newsfeeds.
We all know that the NHS is at breaking point and cannot cope with a surge in demand. If, as reports suggest, the situation gets worse before it gets better, we will be in serious trouble.
Just last week, a letter, signed by consultants in charge of emergency departments in 68 acute hospitals across England and Wales, laid out the dire situation before our Prime Minister. It warned that over crowding was leading to patients ‘dying prematurely in hospital corridors’.
But rather than heed the warning and take positive steps to mitigate our becoming ill, many of us wait until it is too late and just join the back of the (very long) A&E queue.
The flu outbreak is just one example of a crisis which could have been averted if the public was more proactive in its approach to managing its own health. The flu vaccine is widely available, for the price of a cinema ticket and at multiple convenient locations on the high street, ranging from independent pharmacies to high street chains and even supermarkets.
Yet once again we have seen a laissez faire approach, people assuming they will be fine, that they are not ‘target audience‘, that they won’t be caught out.
Looking at the rising figures of hospital admissions, one might argue it wasn’t a gamble worth taking.
It’s time to wake up. We need to change our ways if we are going to save what is left of the NHS, an invaluable resource which is the envy of so many countries. It may seem like an impossible task but I truly believe that one small change would make all the difference.
Everyone needs to ask themselves one simple question in relation to their own health:
What can I do to help myself?
GP surgeries are full of people suffering with coughs, colds, sore throats, sprains, spots, bites and toothache, conditions that, in most cases, can be easily treated with over-the-counter medicines available from your community pharmacy. Where vaccines are available, as with the flu, taking this preemptive step really can make all the difference.
Local pharmacies are a drastically underused resource in this country, with no appointment needed, services on every high street and availability six - seven days a week. Surely with such expertise so widely available, this should be our first port of call for advice on minor ailments?
Pharmacists are extremely knowledgeable when it comes to identifying and treating minor illnesses as well as advising on chronic health conditions and medication. Plus, if a pharmacist feels that a visit to the GP is the correct course of action, then that is the recommendation they will make.
From a patient’s perspective, it’s win win: a visit to the pharmacist will either result in medication, to treat your condition, or a trip to your GP where you can sit, safe in the knowledge that you are using NHS resources as they were intended.
The flu epidemic is ongoing, you may have avoided it thus far and may continue to be lucky. Or you may not. Either way given that there is a way to mitigate its effects, surely the responsible thing to do is get immunised?
Personally, I don’t think we can afford to be blasé about the preservation of the long-term wellbeing of the NHS.