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NHS England’s winter campaign: is earlier better?

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 28 March 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g2474
  1. Margaret McCartney, general practitioner, Glasgow

This £3m campaign recommends earlier, self care for coughs and colds—but what evidence is there that such a message can improve health outcomes without causing harm, asks Margaret McCartney

Is earlier better? NHS England thinks so. It launched a £3m (€3.6m; $5m) campaign in January 2014 with the stated aim “to persuade people not to store up health problems and to seek advice early,” and to encourage people to “get advice on minor ailments from the community pharmacy service” for symptoms such as “bad cough, wheezing, a cold or sore throat.”1

NHS England said that the campaign was partly a response to the 2013 Keogh Urgent and Emergency Care Review, which highlighted that more older people were being admitted to hospital.2 The campaign included advertising through pharmacies, newspapers, radio, and social media, and its press release lauded “better self and family care, early recognition of illness, and urgent access to medication, primary and community care.”

In the press release Keith Willett, NHS England’s director for acute episodes of care, said, “We see . . . so many people who have not had or sought the help they need early enough . . . Too many people make the mistake of soldiering on . . . Unfortunately this can lead to an unnecessary stay in hospital.”1

But does earlier pharmacy …

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