The UK population often consults General Practitioners (GPs) rather than pursuing self care for minor ailments (MAs). The associated costs of this behaviour have not been quantified.
To assess the NHS resource consumed in GP consultations for MAs, and the cost of associated prescriptions.
In July 2007 records of a MA (defined using Read codes) in the prior 24 months were extracted from a database of de-identified, longitudinal patient records from130 UK general practices. Consultations were divided into those for a MA alone, and those for a MA with another condition. Cost of prescriptions issued was calculated from the quantity and product/form/strength prescribed and the NHS unit price.
Of the 57 million consultations examined, 51.4m (90%) were for MAs alone (the balance included discussion of another condition) and 88% were for conditions judged suitable for self care and thus potentially ‘transferable’. Ten MAs accounted for 75% of all consultations. In 90% of consultations the patient received a prescription, accounting for £371m of the estimated total £2bn NHS resource spent annually on GP MA consultations.
The treatment of MAs within primary care accounts for 20% of total available GP workload. These data suggest that most people consult specifically for MAs and not as part of a consultation for a more serious condition. Greater self care of MAs could provide substantial healthcare savings and potential benefits for GPs and patients.
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