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Can The NHS Stop The Self-Medication Epidemic?

Self-medication is part of human nature. For centuries, entire civilisations have asked the gods to heal their pains, wounds, or illness. Some have even gone as far as sacrificing a creature as an offering designed to please the gods. Nowadays, we laugh about it. Of course, we know that killing a lamb isn’t going to cure our flu. But, while the self-medication methods have evolved, they have not disappeared. Most people are more likely to try to sort out their health problems alone than to make an appointment with their GP. 

According to a recent study by LifeSearch, 24 million Britons self-medicate by using drugs, and alcohol as a coping mechanism to relieve their anxiety, insomnia or depression. It’s easy to understand as, taken to an extreme, modern self-medication can be just as deadly as ritual sacrifices used to be for our ancestors. The only difference, however, is that the body you choose to sacrifice is your own. Even if you want to use over the counter medication instead of hard substance, there is no denying that even medicine can create a form of dependence. 

Of course, not every case of self-medication is synonymous with substance abuse. However, there is a recurring theme of mistreatment. Indeed, the reason why over the counter medication warns consumers to consult a doctor if they see no improvement within a certain period is that, in the long term, your body can get used to the medication and stop reacting to it appropriately. Additionally, when the body doesn’t get better, it’s often a sign that not only the drug isn’t working anymore but that it might not have been suitable in the first place. Unfortunately, most people still stick to their self-medication habits even when it doesn’t work. Their persistence could have dramatic consequences for their health. However, information campaigns condemning the risk have not proven helpful. It is maybe time for doctors to tune in and address our worries. 

Self-medication 

I can’t get the help I need

There are hundreds of different medicines that are available over the counter. For minor illnesses and health complaints, they can be the right approach for you. However, most people choose to browse Google to pick a product from the health aisle at their local supermarket. The reason why customers don’t take the time to visit a pharmacy and ask for help is that pharmacists are typically seen following doctors’ prescriptions. Unfortunately, in a busy environment, it might be tricky for the staff to sit down and listen to your health concerns. However, pharmacies need to create a safe area when people can come and ask for the best over the counter option for their issues. Talking to customers is vital to not only understand their needs but also reduce the risks of ineffective and harmful self-medication. Additionally, using a survey format can let customers share their ideas on how to engage with their local pharmacy. What do they need? How can you make it easier for them to share embarrassing complaints without letting the rest of the shop hear?

I don’t trust your storage facilities

Brexit hasn’t technically happened, but it’s already contributed to medicine shortages at pharmacies. Indeed, the Brexit contingency planning has been blamed for the creation of a list of concession priced drugs w– in other words, for a list of medicines for which the NHS will pay a higher tariff than usual. Unfortunately, the list has made the UK a less attractive country from the perspective of EU manufacturers and exporters, resulting in a shortage of some products, ranging from a common painkiller to morphine prescribed to cancer patients. For patients, it makes no doubt that the anxiety over medication shortage will not go away with Boris Johnson’s no-deal approach. How can pharmacies and medical centres best support their patients? The use of high-quality storage equipment, such as a medical fridge, can ensure that stockpiled resources will last for as long as possible. However, there’s only so much stockpiling the NHS can do. Unfortunately, warehouses are already full. The NHS needs to pressure the government for a safe Brexit deal. In the meantime, patients are left with no option but to order online supplies. 

I don’t have time to go to the doctor 

Going to the doctor? Are you mad? I’m far too busy to make a GP appointment. 

If that sounds familiar, you’re not the only person who has to juggle an illness in the middle of your hectic lifestyle. Unfortunately, for a lot of people, getting sick is not an option. We all have a lot to do every day, from the typical household chores to working long hours in an office. Making an appointment with your family doctor can disrupt your day. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people to ignore their symptoms and hope they can get better without having to take a day off to see their GP. A smartphone app can significantly reduce your waiting time while letting your schedule a virtual GP appointment. Applications such as Push Doctor and GP at Hand, in the UK, already provide online consultations, saving patients’ and doctors’ time. What is the NHS waiting to get all GPs online? 

I don’t trust my GP

Trust is dramatically affecting patients’ satisfaction and healthcare. Indeed, for over 40% of patients, the sense of being taken seriously is directly associated with confidence in their doctor. However, a medical environment can make it tricky for patients to build a positive relationship with their GPs. Indeed, many complain about feeling rushed through the appointment and have no time for the interpersonal aspects of their visit. As a result, the patients can worry that their doctors are making decisions about their health without taking the time to understand their complaints or lifestyles. Additionally, when decisions are quick, most people feel left out, unable to share their concerns or opinions and get involved in the process. Enhancing patients’ confidence is one of the biggest challenges for the NHS. Unfortunately, staff and support shortage makes it difficult for doctors to build a trust relationship during a short visit. 

I know better than my doctor

How well do you know your body? 

The answer is not as well as you think. Indeed, it’s not uncommon for patients to live with high-risk health issues without even noticing any difference to their body. Additionally, patients must accept that their intimate connection to their pain doesn’t replace medical knowledge. A general rule of thumb is that your doctor is better equipped to find out what’s wrong with you and heal you. Unfortunately, too many individuals continue to delay medical appointments on the basis that they believe they know better than a trained specialist. For the NHS, there is no other way than turning to an educational campaign to address patients’ beliefs and thought-process. Indeed, we’ve all heard the dramatic stories of patients refusing cancer treatments to choose natural alternatives. The stories rarely have a happy ending. 

I prefer using natural alternatives

However, natural options are not always a bad approach. In fact, self-medication tends to be more effective if you stick to natural remedies for minor complaints and diseases. Indeed, relying on medical over the counter treatments can have long-term consequences for your immune system. But Mother Nature has plenty of fantastic options for you to heal your body without using drugs. Aloe vera, for instance, is perfect for reducing skin inflammation when it comes to minor cuts, burns and skin infections. You can also use it to soothe your sunburn! Ginger is the go-to plant for an upset stomach and morning sickness. Its anti-inflammatory abilities can also kill rhinoviruses in winter! However, before you choose to create your very own plant first aid cabinet, you should have a chat with your GP to confirm quantities and usage. 

I hate waiting

How long do people wait for their doctor’s appointment? According to researchers, patients in the UK spend on average 45 minutes in the waiting room as a result of ineffective scheduling. Indeed, medical centres tend to schedule appointments purposely before doctors are ready. The time-costing method is designed to ensure GPs and health specialists don’t run out of work. In the meantime, however, patients are running out of patience. There are currently a variety of options proposed to address the issue, from smarter scheduling times to clusters of appointments spread through the day. While there is no right or wrong method, it’s time the NHS trials each solution to figure out what works best. 

If I make an appointment, it means I’m really sick

For some people, making an appointment at the doctor is the most terrifying experience, even if they are not facing life-changing health conditions. Indeed, when the body doesn’t react as it should, anxious personalities are quick to assume they have a terminal disease. Their fear of seeing a doctor is so great that they’d rather heal slowly by themselves than make an appointment. Health anxiety is a common issue that many doctors fail to address appropriately. 

The self-medication crisis is spreading throughout the population. People choose to self-medicate for a variety of reasons, and it’s the role of our national healthcare service to address their patients’ issues and rebuild trust.

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