With the recent warning from Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of NHS England, that Britain could face one of the worst flu seasons in years, the NHS could be put under even more pressure this winter to cope with the amount of people falling ill. Therefore, it’s important that people know how to identify and treat flu symptoms, and you can help to take the pressure off GP and A&E services.
This warning comes following severe cases of flu being reported in Australia and New Zealand, with Australia recording 70,000 cases by mid-August alone. The same strain of the virus has also been found in Asia, which indicates that outbreaks in Europe later in the year are highly likely.
National campaigns such as ‘Stay Well This Winter’ are great at helping to educate people abuot flu, but pharmacy campaigns also play a vital role. Self Care Week, which runs from 13-19 November, provides a timely opportunity and useful platform to engage with people on the subject and to communicate important prevention and treatment messages to the local community.
Organised by the Self Care Forum, Self Care Week has been running since 2011 and is a national awareness week that focuses on embedding support for self care across communities, families and generations.
If your pharmacy is keen to get involved with Self Care Week, then there are documents available to download on the Self Care Forum website, which you can put up around your pharmacy and share with staff.
Using Self Care Week as a tool to drive footfall to the pharmacy gives you the perfect opportunity to engage with those people who are most at risk of flu. For people aged 65 and over and those with long-term health conditions, including diabetes and kidney disease, flu can be particularly dangerous. If you feel that people fall into one of those categories, it might be worth advising them to book in for a flu jab as soon as possible to reduce their risk. Remind them that a community pharmacy can offer this service, particularly if they are eligible for a free vaccine.
Although the World Health Organization works hard to produce timely vaccines based on information available at the time, if the strain of flu mutates it may not be as effective. That’s why it’s also important that you take the time to advise people on how to tell the difference between symptoms of flu and symptoms of a common cold, so that they can treat themselves accordingly with the right OTC medicines if they fall ill. If someone has a lot of symptoms and asks for advice on what medicines to take, it might be worth recommending an OTC medicine that can treat a number of symptoms e.g. temperature and muscle aches at once. However, it’s important to remind them not to ‘double dose’ on paracetamol or ibuprofen if the flu medication also contains these.
With the NHS committed to freeing up 2,000-3,000 extra beds this winter, we need to work together to ensure care is available for those people who really need it. Even the simplest advice and information on flu prevention and treatment can go a long way in ensuring that people are ready, should an outbreak hit our shores.
This column first appeared in P3 magazine.