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Latest call for restraint shows pressure on NHS

A CALL for the public to think hard before seeking an appointment with their general practitioner is yet another indication of just how hard-pressed the health service is.

The ‘3 before GP’ campaign wants people to ask themselves three questions before ringing for an appointment: Can the condition be self-treated? Can advice be obtained from a reputable website? And can you obtain treatment at a pharmacy?

It is important to point out that this latest move comes not just from GPs but is being promoted by the Royal College of General Practitioners (NI) patients in practice group, comprising both patients and GPs.

This latest call follows similar ones around Christmas concerning accident and emergency departments and the ambulance service. All three appeals were and are designed to take the pressure off the health service which has experienced almost unprecedented levels of attendance this winter.

It makes perfect sense that we should all make sure that we use the health service in a common sense way at all times, not just at times of extreme usage. As those behind this latest campaign emphasise, such an approach would free up more time for general practitioners to deal with patients who need their expertise the most urgently.

However, as has been said many times of the past number of years, providing health care that meets the needs of the population is a complex issue. Even with the general public regulating themselves in the way that service is used, is not going to solve the problems which are all too evident.

It should be noted that the same problems that we experience in the north of Ireland are evident in the Republic and in England, Scotland and Wales. Campaigns calling for public awareness about usage will hopefully ease problems. They will not solve them.

The long-term answer must come from longer-term planning and almost certainly from increased investment to allow recruitment of more medical personnel and provision of facilities.

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