Only 44% of people would use a community pharmacist as a first step on advice for self-treatable conditions, a drop from 47% in 2021, a survey by consumer healthcare association PAGB has found.

PAGB – which represents manufacturers including of OTCs - said findings from its poll of 2,005 UK adults suggested ‘there has been a shift away from self-care’ and ‘people are slipping back into pre-pandemic behaviours’, warning ‘there is a time-limited opportunity’ to embed self-care in the system.

The survey also found that 52% of respondents did not feel confident in treating backache; 23% would not feel comfortable self-treating a headache; and a third would be uncertain about how to treat constipation (34%) and diarrhoea (33%).

The most common ailment that people lacked the confidence to self-treat was conjunctivitis, at 73%, followed by warts or veruccas at 61%, and acne at 61%.

Meanwhile, 27% reported that they thought it was acceptable to go to A&E and use GP services for conditions that they could treat themselves at home, which PAGB described as ‘worrying’.

PAGB has called on the Government to develop a national self-care strategy that ‘would encourage and support people’s ability to self-care and facilitate and environment that would improve access to effective OTC treatments’ away from unnecessary GP and hospital visits.

It also argued there is ‘support for change’ among respondents. For example:

  • 67% of respondents believe pharmacists should be able to populate medical records, which would make 23% more people see a pharmacist
  • 31% would be more likely to see a pharmacist if they could make direct referrals to other healthcare professionals
  • 69% support the idea of GPs being able to make referrals to pharmacists, but only 18% have been either by a GP or through NHS 111

Michelle Riddalls, CEO of PAGB, said that the ‘alarming lack of confidence and knowledge around self-care for everyday ailments’ posed a threat to struggling frontline services. ‘With a twindemic looming the NHS cannot afford people turning up to A&E to treat minor ailments such as coughs, headaches, and sore throats,’ she said.

‘People need to be empowered to self-care. We know it can be done’, she added, highlighting the campaign run during the pandemic by NHS England and the Department of Health and Social Care, which encouraged people to stay at home and self-treat. ‘We need to replicate this for all self-treatable conditions.’

Deborah Evans, a community pharmacist and an advisor to PAGB, said: ‘These shocking findings show we need to get people back into their community pharmacies and talking to their pharmacist. Pharmacists train to qualify for five years and can help provide expert advice on all self-treatable conditions including minor cuts and burns to aches and pains.

‘Pharmacists are well placed to drive a holistic approach to self-care. They can help to advise people on the most suitable and effective over-the-counter treatments as well as self-care techniques.’

‘These are all instances where a pharmacist can help and seeking advice from these highly qualified and easily accessible experts ensures consumers get swift treatment and precious NHS resources can be focused on more serious conditions,’ said Ms Evans, adding that a GP visit cost the NHS an estimated £39.32, while a trip to A&E could cost upwards of £77.

Many pharmacists give advice and supply over-the-counter treatments for different conditions including skincare or issues caused by menopause.

But in July, a survey found that just one in 10 (9%) adults in Britain have turned to their local pharmacy for advice and information on lowering their risk of serious health conditions.