Parents told to take sick children to the pharmacy first

18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million A&E visits are being taken up by patients with conditions that could have been treated at home

18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million A&E visits are being taken up by patients with conditions that could have been treated at home

A meningitis charity has criticised an NHS campaign that urges parents to treat their local pharmacist as their first port of call for minor illnesses in their children.

NHS England's Stay Well Pharmacy campaign is urging people to visit their local pharmacist first to help save the service money and free up time for the sickest patients. Research for the NHS reveals just 6% of mums and dads with children under the age of five would consider seeking help - for minor illnesses - from a high street pharmacist.

There are 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E every year for conditions that could be dealt with at home, costing £850 million.

Meningitis Now said that it had "real concerns" that NHS England was putting another step in the process of quick diagnoses for conditions like Meningitis, which could result in lost time and increase the risk facing patients.

This is despite an overwhelming majority of adults (79 per cent) saying they are aware that pharmacists are qualified healthcare professionals who can give advice on most common illnesses.

Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: "Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice and effective treatments for a wide range of minor health concerns right there and then".

The NHS's Stay Well Pharmacy campaign will feature a TV advert and digital and social media advertising.

"However, if symptoms suggest it's something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need".

Nine in 10 pharmacies offer a private consultation service. It would also ease pressure on Global Positioning System and emergency services.

"Often people will be right to use alternatives, but we don't want to hear of more cases where someone has stayed away and subsequently come to serious harm because they were in fact seriously ill".

Parents could get more convenient and timely expert advice if their child has a minor illness, by opting to go to their local pharmacist first instead of the GP.

"But of course, they are not Global Positioning System and in an emergency or situation where genuinely unsure, patients should always seek expert medical assistance, particularly if parents see potentially serious symptoms in their child such as a very high temperature that doesn't respond to simple measures, features of dehydration or lethargy, " said chairwoman Prof Helen Stokes-Lampard.

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