More than half (51%) of respondents to a survey by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) said they would reconsider turning to their GP as a first port of call in managing self-treatable conditions following the Covid-19 pandemic.
The poll of more than 2,000 adults, who have experienced at least one self-treatable health problem since lockdown in March, suggests coronavirus has changed attitudes around self-care and NHS use.
Many said they would instead be more likely to visit a pharmacy, in the first instance, for over-the-counter medication and advice.
Seven in 10 respondents who might not have considered self-care as their first option before the pandemic, for issues such as backache, hayfever or a sore throat, said they were ‘more likely’ to do so in future.
A third of people responding to the consumer healthcare association’s poll, which comes ahead of International Self-Care Day (24 July), said the pandemic has changed their attitude to the way they access healthcare services.
Also, 77% agreed the pandemic ‘should’ change the way we think about using GP appointments and A&E services, and 86% ‘agreed’ that both should only be used when absolutely essential.
These findings suggest the sharp fall in people attending GP surgeries during the lockdown could pave the way for a ‘longer-term shift away from inappropriate use of NHS resources’, the PAGB said.
Despite this, recent figures show the number of appointments in general practice in England is increasing towards the same level as before lockdown restrictions were introduced.
Prior to the pandemic, there were an estimated 18 million GP appointments and 3.7 million A&E visits each year for conditions which people could have treated themselves or seen a pharmacist about.
The cost to the NHS, along with that of prescriptions for products which could be bought over the counter, is estimated by PAGB to be £1.5 billion annually.
Almost a third of people in the poll, who would not have visited a pharmacy for advice before seeking help elsewhere, said they were more likely to do so following the pandemic.
GP Dr Sarah Jarvis said: ‘There is strong and welcome support for ensuring that A&E and GP services are used only when absolutely essential, as they have been by the vast majority of people during lockdown.
‘What matters now is to build on these foundations so that people don’t slip back into previous habits despite their best intentions.’
Increasing awareness around the expertise of pharmacists, who will be able to identify potentially serious symptoms, will be important, as will ‘improving [general] knowledge and understanding of self-care’, so that more people have the necessary tools to look after themselves, she added.