Pharmacies should be the first port of call for parents of children with minor illnesses, according to a major new public health campaign.

NHS England’s Stay Well Pharmacy campaign – launched today (12 February) – is aimed at freeing up some of the 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million trips made to A&E for self-treatable conditions such as coughs and tummy troubles.

These visits cost the NHS £850m a year and are the equivalent of more than 220,000 hip replacements or 880,000 cataract operations, according to NHS England.

The television, digital and social media advertising campaign is backed by the UK’s largest parenting website Netmums.

Its editor-in-chief Annie O’Leary said: ‘Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice for a wide range of minor health concerns, right there and then. Pharmacists can assess your child's symptoms and provide clinical advice, or simply provide reassurance that it is nothing more serious.’

Pharmacy not first port of call

Despite the expert advice on offer in high street pharmacies, NHS research found that just 6% of parents of under-fives would consider getting help there for a minor health concern.

Instead 35% said they would go to the GP in their first place  - at a cost of £31 a time to the NHS.

Another 5% said they would head straight to the emergency room, which costs an average of £148 a time.

Just 16% said they would get advice from their pharmacist for minor health worries, dropping to just 6% of parents with young children.

However, more than three quarters of adults said they knew pharmacists could give advice on most common illnesses and where to seek advice for more serious conditions.

Two thirds of adults who got  advice from a pharmacist in the past six months for themselves or their child said it was useful and less than  a fifth needed to visit the GP afterwards, the research found.

Providing reassurance

Most people also live within walking distance of their community pharmacy making it a valuable first port of call for minor health worries, said NHS England.

It is working with community pharmacies to increase their range of t services, including asthma audits and flu vaccinations, and promoting their clinical expertise.

Launching the campaign, Dr Bruce Warner, England’s deputy chief pharmaceutical officer said: ‘[Pharmacists] 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.’

Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) England board chair Sandra Gidley said: ‘It is great to see a campaign putting pharmacists at the front of people’s minds when it comes to getting clinical advice and over the counter medicines for minor health concerns such as coughs, colds or tummy troubles.’