Tackling long-term conditions is not an easy task. With an ageing population, it will increasingly fall on nurses to be a lead health professional in the ongoing care of chronic problems, such as diabetes, hypertension and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
We encourage self-care when patients face a lifetime of disease management, and rightly so. Evidence shows patients empowered to self-care have reduced disability and hospital admissions as they are more alert to worsening symptoms and act accordingly. But why wait and promote self-care only once the damage is done?
The pathway to effective self-care for long-term conditions begins with acute minor ailments. Tackling a common cold or acute back pain should be the arena where patients first gain confidence in their ability to take responsibility for their health.
This not only improves a patient's immediate quality of life, it enforces a positive cycle of change: resolving their own symptoms generates improved self-worth and resilience, which encourages future self-care.
Research conducted in 2010 found 84% of patients with self-care experience choose this approach for new episodes. The end result is a patient more attuned to their health, who can identify when to consult for symptoms that are not 'normal' for them. Another bonus is a potential reduction in the 57 million annual general practice consultations for minor ailments.
How many of these consultations do you have each day? Patients need us to give the simple message that self-care is ok, but this is a new direction for many. The Royal College of General Practitioners offers an e-learning course on Care for Minor Ailments that provides tools to run a self-care aware consultation.
For the NHS to successfully manage the rising tide of long-term conditions, we must embrace self-care and endorse it as our mantra at every patient touchpoint.
Sara Richards, specialist primary care nurse, practice nurse facilitator and Self-care Forum board member (www.selfcareforum.org)