Educating patients helps the NHS

BMJ 1999; 319 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.319.7212.788a (Published 18 September 1999) Cite this as: BMJ 1999;319:788
  1. Simon Fradd, chairman
  1. Doctor Patient Partnership, London WC1H 9JP

    EDITOR—They say timing is everything. In my former life as a casualty officer, I was yanked out of a deep sleep to tend to a patient: “Doctor, I have had this annoying boil on my neck for two weeks.” I groggily asked him why he had not gone to see his GP and he replied, “Well, I was driving home from the pub and thought it would be quicker just to drop into casualty and get it fixed up. After all what else do you docs have to do during the nightshift?”

    As an inner city GP, I know that many of my patients do not understand when to go to their GP, to casualty, or to see the local pharmacist. The public lack the confidence needed to take care of their own health and need confirmation that they are doing the right thing by taking simple remedies such as paracetamol. Many young mothers don't have relatives around who they can ask for advice, so it makes sense that they would go to ask their GP instead.

    The Doctor Patient Partnership was born out of the belief that if the public was made aware of how to use the NHS more effectively and efficiently it would help curb the growing demands on the health service. The partnership is unique in being the only initiative aimed at demand management rather than at the supply side of the NHS.

    The partnership works with patients' groups, voluntary organisations, and health professionals to develop public education campaigns on issues as varied as childhood immunisation, teenage suicide, and the social isolation of the elderly. To date, the partnership has produced over 5 million posters, leaflets, and other educational materials for patients. The demand seems almost insatiable.

    The partnership, along with the NHS Executive, the Patients' Association, and the National Pharmaceutical Association (representing the Pharmaceutical Alliance) has been charged by Alan Langlands, chief executive of the NHS Executive, to manage the communication for the executive's winter planning project. A national advertising campaign has been developed, and materials will be distributed to health authorities, doctors' surgeries, and pharmacies. Even brewers will be involved.

    It appears that the partnership's philosophy—that demand should be managed by empowering the public to make appropriate choices rather than by rationing—has struck a chord. This should benefit healthcare workers, the government, and especially the public.

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