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​Self care

What is self care?

Self care is about looking after yourself in a healthy way. It can be anything from brushing your teeth, doing some exercise, managing common conditions (also called minor ailments) like headaches, colds and flu or living with a long-term health problem, such as asthma or diabetes.

In the video below, GP and self care advocate Dr Gill Jenkins discusses the important role patients play in managing minor ailments and their own health, and how self care can result in a better, healthier, more independent life.


Self care for common conditions

Did you know that one in five GP visits are for common conditions, such as backache, headache or cough?

For most people, these common conditions are not serious health problems – you just want to know how to relieve it and you want a treatment that acts fast. You also want to know how long you're going to suffer or, what you should do if your symptoms change.

The good news is that self care can help you manage most of these problems. It may mean you don't have to spend time waiting to see your GP and can get on with tackling your symptoms. Self care for common conditions can also help free up some of your GP's time, making it easier to get an appointment when you have a more serious condition.

Did you know?

  • One in every five GP visits are for common conditions, such as backache, headache or cough.
  • Many patients visits their GP or Accident and Emergency department with common conditions which could have been treated with advice from their community pharmacist.
  • Every time you see a GP it costs the NHS £36 on average
  • A visit to Accident and Emergency can cost up to £130.
  • Last year in Lambeth, the NHS spent over £1 million on over the counter products that you can easily get without a prescription.

How self care helps your local NHS

Many common conditions can be treated at home with the support of your local pharmacy if needed. Over the counter products for self care are things like pain relief and cough and cold remedies. These items can be bought from pharmacies, supermarkets and discount stores without a prescription. You can get them without an appointment or seeing a doctor. They are also often cheaper this way.

  • You will help ease the pressure on NHS services for common conditions that could be managed at home.
  • You can help free up some of your GP or nurse's time, making it easier to get an appointment when you have a more serious or complex condition.
  • You will help to reduce the amount spent by your local NHS on medicines that are available over the counter.

Locally NHS Lambeth CCG no longer supports the routine prescribing of medications for common conditions such as acute (short-term) illnesses, minor and/or self-limiting conditions such as headache, coughs and colds. We want to encourage and empower patients to self care.

You can read the South East London Position statement for medicines available over-the-counter (OTC) for self-care here.

Ask your pharmacist for advice

Your local pharmacist can give you friendly, expert advice on self care of common conditions. They can recommend over-the-counter medicines that can help with lots of common conditions.  

Many pharmacies are open during evenings and weekends so you can see your local pharmacist anytime. Just walk in, you don't need an appointment. You can have a confidential consultation with the pharmacist in a private area of the pharmacy.

If your condition needs the attention of a GP or another healthcare professional, the pharmacist will recognise this. They will advise you to see your GP or the most appropriate healthcare professional.

You can find your nearest pharmacist on the NHS Choices website

Find out more about self care for common conditions

The Self Care Forum has produced a series of factsheets to help you take care of the most common conditions. These provide useful facts about your condition, what you can expect to happen, how to help yourself, when you should see your GP and where to find out more information. 

Research shows people using these factsheets felt more able to manage their common condition.

Click on the link for the factsheet you need:

You can also find information on these and other common conditions by visiting the NHS Choices website.

If you need more advice or you are unsure what the right thing for you to do is, ask your pharmacist for advice or call the surgery to speak to a doctor or make an appointment to discuss your problem further.

Stock up your medicine cabinet

To support self care at home you should keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet with essential medicines and products such as:

  • painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • antihistamines
  • anti-diarrhoeal medicine
  • oral rehydration salts
  • indigestion treatment
  • first aid kit including plasters, bandages and a thermometer

For the full recommended list visit NHS Choices here

Don’t keep or use medicines after their expiry date. Take them to your local community pharmacy where they can be disposed of safely. 

NHS 111

111 is the NHS non-emergency number. Trained advisers at NHS 111 can direct you to the right service for your needs.

NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and calls are free from landlines and mobile phones.

Call 111 from your landline or mobile phone if you need urgent medical help or advice but it's not a life-threatening situation.

Self care for healthy living

Staying healthy is important for everyone. This means eating healthily, exercising regularly, quitting smoking and drinking in moderation.

If you are not sure what changes you can make to help improve your health, try Public Health England's One You How Are You Quiz. Just answer a few simple questions for advice on what changes may help you. Click here for the How Are You Quiz.

Find out more about self care for healthy living

NHS Choices provides lots of useful information on how you can improve your health and wellbeing. Click on the links to find out more.

I want to lose weight

 want to stop smoking
I want to get fit
I want to drink less alcohol


Page added 14.9.17, updated 1.2.18