Embracing self care for life could save the NHS £2.2bn per year

Self care is simply the actions we take to live a happier, healthier and more fulfilling life.  Everyone does it already – some more than others. But it is important that we understand what we can do to become even better at looking after our physical health and mental wellbeing.

There are lots of ways to self care. Remember that every time we make positive choices about things such as healthy eating, taking exercise or stopping smoking, we use selfcare to not only help us feel better, but also to fend off illnesses.

Take so-called “self-limiting conditions” such as coughs and colds, digestive problems, headaches and hay fever. These generally get better by themselves, and treating the symptoms can make us feel better while our bodies deal with the problem. So why suffer when there are many effective over-the-counter medicines to choose from that can make a real difference to our wellbeing.

But can we do more to look after ourselves and our families?

This year Self Care Week runs from 13-19 November, aiming to raise awareness about how we can look after ourselves better. Admittedly previous years have largely been focused on getting the ideas of self care onto the policymaker’s agenda and raising its profile among healthcare professionals. Those messages are getting through.

Now it’s time to take the word to the street. We need to know that taking care of our nutritional needs, making sure we eat good, nutritious food and maybe even take a multivitamin food supplement if you’re lacking in essential nutrients, are all part of self care.

Good nutrition underpins everyone’s health and wellbeing. In fact, there is a substantial body of research which shows that doing this in our middle years can help to ensure better health as we age. We need to know that going to the chemist and asking the pharmacist for advice about using over-the-counter medicines, and then buying and using something to relieve our symptoms, is self care.

And as well as being good for us, taking better care of our health and our family’s health has the added bonus of helping the NHS.

Everyone in the UK loves the NHS – we value it as a crown jewel. But in a strange dichotomy, because we don’t pay for it directly at the point of use, we also undervalue it and take it for granted.

Right now, the NHS is struggling. It was not designed to cope with the demands 21st century life puts upon it. Research by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain found that there are 3.7 million visits to A&E and 57 million GP consultations for minor conditions, things like coughs, colds and sprains. That is 60.7 million visits for self-limiting conditions – things that would get better all by themselves, or which could have been sped on their way with a little self care. Those 60.7 million visits cost the NHS £2.2billion!

Of course, self care does not mean no care. The NHS is there for us when we need it, and there are health issues that are not appropriate for self care. For example, if a cough doesn’t get better in three to four weeks or if you are coughing up blood, go and see your GP. Or if your headaches are getting worse or more frequent, go and see your pharmacist who can advise you. There are a series of fact sheets about the kind of conditions that are appropriate for self care, and the kind of “red flags” associated with each that indicate that you should seek medical help on the Self Care Forum website.

In addition, mobile apps such as ESC Student and distrACT provide free and impartial health information and advice for young people who want to learn more about physical and mental health issues.