Health, Social and Economic Benefits
Effective self-medication through the use of non-prescription medicines can help consumers feel better quickly, safely and inexpensively.
Given the demographic and epidemiological trends in Ireland, public expenditure on health will continue to rise in the years ahead. At the same time, continuing research and development will expand the range of possible treatments available. All of this means that the demand for healthcare and personal social services is certain to increase rapidly and the Irish Government, in line with its European partners, must find ways in which healthcare costs can be managed more efficiently.
Governments have turned their attentions to the consumer and have recognised that consumers today want to take an active role in managing their health. The health strategy ‘Primary Care – A New Direction’, published in November 2001, strongly emphasises the importance of self-care and removing the burden from primary and secondary care where possible.
Today, self-medication is widely and appropriately availed of across Europe for many ailments and is a hidden asset in the primary healthcare system.
The health, social and economic benefits of responsible self-medication are well known and have been extensively reported (1):
- Consumers benefit due to feeling better, enhanced productivity and improved health in terms of prevention and increased patient satisfaction as a result of being able to obtain the correct medication directly.
- Employers gain by having employees attend work when they might otherwise have stayed at home.
- Doctors’ save time which enables them to better use that time for those patients with complicated, chronic or serious illnesses. A recent report estimated that 51.4 million GP consultations in the UK were solely for minor ailments. It estimated that this represented 18% of a GP’s workload. Furthermore it estimated that the total cost to the NHS of these consultations was €2.5 billion and 80% of this cost (€2.15 billion) related to the cost of the GP's time (2). It also presents more of an opportunity for doctors to educate patients about common ailments and diminishes patient expectations of a prescription for every visit.
- Self-medication allows pharmacists to play a more active advisory role using their skilled knowledge of medicines and expertise in advising on symptoms.
- The availability of a full range of self-medication products enables consumers to access appropriate treatment for their minor ailments with out making unnecessary visits to accident and emergency departments and doctor surgeries as well as reducing the number of prescriptions, most of which are paid for, directly or indirectly, by the State. The State can then redirect scarce resources to other areas of public health need.
The principle way to fully realise these benefits is by increasing the range of medicines available without prescription through switching the legal status of the medicine.
(1) E.g. Guiding Principles in Self-Medication: WSMI: http://www.wsmi.org/publications.htmEnsuring Safety
(2) Minor ailments cost the NHS £2 billion/year. Pharm J 2008; 280:1090