Make the most of your NHS

Remember: You’re in charge of your health and wellbeing.

You are the expert when it comes to your health and what works for you both in terms of your health and in your life.

Knowing yourself and your own health and how to access the right information, support or medical help when you need it helps you to stay in control of your health and your life.

  • Know your own health

    The more you can find out and discover about your particular health and wellbeing issues, the better. 

    • Get to grips with what’s happening with you  image Get to grips with what’s happening with you

      Whether it’s a new issue or an existing condition you’re managing, what are you experiencing? 

      What makes it better?  What makes it worse? 

      This is about listening to your body, listening to your feelings and your instinct. Bear in mind that psychological/emotional issues, such as stress, can cause or exacerbate physical symptoms and vice verse.

      If there’s something you’re currently concerned about, try to identify exactly what your concern is and what your immediate needs are, if any, regarding that concern. For example:

      ‘I have a pain in my knee - I know what’s causing it but need the pain controlled’

      is different from

      ‘I have a pain in my knee - I need to know whether it’s something I should be taking seriously and doing something about’

      and is different again from

      ‘I have a pain in my knee - I have medications to control it but don’t like taking them and would like to know if there’s any alternative’.

    • See if you can find out more  image See if you can find out more

      Apart from seeking medical advice (see lower down this page), you can find out more by looking up relevant information yourself, either online or through other sources of information; or there may be people with some sort of specialist knowledge you can access, such as a pharmacist for medication issues, or even some amongst your friends or family who may have knowledge or experience they can share.

    • What are your options for treating or managing the issue? image What are your options for treating or managing the issue?

      Some of the options may be medical and some may be more straightforward things you can do yourself.  Even chronic pain can often be improved a great deal through making relatively minor changes in daily life. Sometimes quite simple remedies or actions can help, without having to resort to medications.  Where these work, they side-step the issue of possible side effects from medication.

      Once you consult a doctor, you are probably looking for medical solutions.  Sometimes these can fix a problem - or help to fix it - but they can’t always. Even if they help, they can be even more effective when teamed with self-management strategies.  

      ACCESSING INFORMATION NHS CHOICES has a wealth of information on hundreds of health conditions and links to further specialised websites so is a good place to start.
      ACCESSING INFORMATION GET HEALTH INFORMATION on this website has a variety on hand-chosen links to national and local services for specific health issues
      ACCESSING INFORMATION SEARCH ENGINES such as Google or Bing to ask any question or search a condition to find other relevant information online, or use the SEARCH function on the Self-management platform to save results to your Library
      ACCESSING INFORMATION ONLINE COMMUNITIES can be a good source of information and ideas for what has worked (and not worked) for others as well as a source of support
  • Finding the right help and support

    Finding the right help or support isn’t always easy, but it’s much easier if you can work out what sort of support you need before you go looking for it

    ‘Manage your health’ on this website can help you to see some of the options currently available to you on the NHS.

  • When it's medical help you need

    • Get the right medical help when you need it image Get the right medical help when you need it

      Pharmacists  - can help with treatments for a variety of minor ailments and also advise whether you should see a doctor (see What your pharmacist can do for you).  You can just call in to any pharmacy and ask to speak to the pharmacist without having to make an appointment.

      GP Practices - General practitioners (GPs) treat all common medical conditions and refer patients to hospitals and other medical services for urgent and specialist treatment.  They focus on the health of the whole person combining physical, psychological and social aspects of care.  

      Minor Injuries units - where available, minor injuries units can deal with minor injuries such as sprains and strains, broken bones, wound infections, minor burns and scalds, minor head injuries, insect and animal bits, minor eye injurie and injuries to the back, shoulder and chest.  Some minor injuries units don't have the facilities to treat young children so it's worth checking in advance of turning up.

      Emergency help  - While it’s important not to use emergency services whenever you can avoid it, it’s also very important that you do know when to seek emergency treatment.  NHS Choices provides some guidance here.

      If you’re still not sure, try to make best use of any available advice and information you can access, including from friends and family or 111 or online - or Walk-in GP surgeries where available (see Emergency and Out of Hours on this website) and listen to your instinct in trying to make the best decision you can in the situation.  Are you worrying unnecessarily and can afford to watch and wait or is this a situation that you feel needs urgent attention to avoid serious consequences?  

    • Making the most of your appointment  image Making the most of your appointment

      Before you see your GP or other healthcare professional, do you know what sort of help you’re looking for?  Is it a diagnosis; treatment; reassurance; problems with existing treatments; alternative treatments; referral to other health services; or monitoring; or something else?

      It can help to be clear about what you’d like to come out of the consultation with so that you can be clear what you’re asking for and clear, afterwards, whether you got what you felt you needed – or, if not, whether you’re happy with the result nonetheless.

      WRITE DOWN what you want to get out of the appointment with your GP or other health care professional on your next visit and whether you have any specific questions as it can be easy to forget something in a short consultation.   Write down or take with you any medications you're currently on.

      BE AS HONEST AND OPEN as you can. 

      • GPs have experience and are trained to deal with intimate subjects.  They will understand any discomfort you may feel and you should find them supportive.   It may help to introduce the subject by saying “I might find this difficult to talk about” as this will enable your GP to help you to share the problem.
      • Also it’s important to share all information with your GP to help them in their diagnosis and to identify the right treatment for you.
      • Tell your doctor if you’re finding it difficult in any way to follow the treatment plan that’s been agreed.
      ASK QUESTIONS Your GPs, nurses, consultants and other health professionals are there to help and guide you to stay healthy, both physically and mentally.  Many people feel they can’t question their doctor.  However, doctors may have some of the answers but don’t have all the answers – especially around what works best for you as an individual. GPs know this and It’s only by asking them questions and working together with them that you can both achieve the best results for you.   You can also ask them to repeat or clarify anything they have said if you haven't properly heard or understood or ask them to write it down for you.  
      CHECK YOUR OPTIONS  about how to best manage, as well as ‘treat’, your health condition – ie what else might help to produce the best outcomes.   While sometimes there's little alternative to medical or surgical treatment, your GP can also advise whether it's an option to watch and wait or whether there are other options you can try before or instead of medical or surgical interventions.  Some GPs may be very focused on medical treatment, so you may need to ask about other options; other GPs may suggest other things that can help or other options as a matter of course. 
      CHECK NEXT STEPS  Make sure you're clear what happens next before you leave the appointment - what you can expect from your health team and what your health team may be expecting from you. 
      SECOND OPINION  If you’re really not sure about the advice you've been given, sometimes it can help to ask for a second opinion.  It may help to ask the receptionist (or other people who may know) if there's a GP who specialises in your particular health concern as many GPs have a particular area of interest.  If it’s a hospital consultant, ask your GP if you could get a second opinion (your GP will also be able to talk to you about your questions or concerns arising from the original consultation).
  • Visit your local NHS or Local Authority websites

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