Self-care is about putting people in control of their own health and wellbeing. It involves the things individuals can do to protect their health and manage illness. Self-care does not mean that you need to manage on your own without any help from a health professional. The information on this page identifies the different sources of support available. If you are at all unsure, please seek advice from your GP, nurse or pharmacist.
The Department of Health defines self-care as:
‘The actions people take for themselves, their children and their families to stay fit and maintain good physical and mental health; meet social and psychological needs; prevent illness or accidents; care for minor ailments and long term conditions; and maintain health and wellbeing after an acute illness or discharge from hospital.’
What are the benefits of self-care?
Saving people time and money
Having to take a day off work or organise child care to see a GP or other health professional for a health problem can make life difficult for people. By being able to self-diagnose and self-care appropriately, people can often save themselves a lot of time and hassle. Self-care is suitable for both self-limiting as well as long term conditions, such as diabetes, depression, hypertension or back pain. Pharmacists are an excellent resource to help with self-care too.
Giving individuals a feeling of control
Like tackling simple computing problems, changing a fuse for a plug, looking after your bike or performing simple car maintenance tasks with just a little basic knowledge and confidence, there’s no reason why people can’t safely diagnose and treat many common medical problems themselves.
Enabling people to learn what to do and where to find trusted information rather than going – and waiting to see – a health professional for every health problem can feel liberating. It also increases people’s resilience and gives a feeling of ‘being in control’.
Not knowing what a symptom may mean and what to do about it can make people feel anxious. And so deciding whether to seek medical help or not can be challenging. In these situations, being able to self-diagnose appropriately and manage certain health symptoms is greatly reassuring – as is being confident about deciding when it’s best to seek medical help. For long term conditions, having care pathways and care plans developed in conjunction with a clinician can further enhance this so that people know what they can do to help themselves and when to seek help.
Improving quality of life
Being able to self-manage symptoms such as cough, fever and minor aches and pains improves people’s quality of life - which is often all they want and need. Research shows that better self-care, for example, improves sleep and reduces disability from headache. This also makes people feel more positive and confident about their own abilities to take control of their lives and improves their feelings of self-worth. By supporting people in this way there can be the added advantage of making sure that people know when they must see a healthcare professional and avoid late detection of serious diseases, which is particularly pertinent for men, who are more prone to presenting later.
Improving disease outcomes People with long-term conditions who can recognise when their condition is worsening and what to do when that happens face less risk of suffering serious complications. Early and appropriate early self-care interventions (such as stepping up treatment in worsening asthma, using ‘rescue packs’ containing antibiotics and steroids for exacerbations of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or adjusting insulin doses in poorly controlled diabetes) can prevent potentially serious complications. There is good evidence that better self-care reduces hospital admissions and disability.
Sources of help / advice:
Your local pharmacist can also recognise many common health complaints. They can give advice or, where appropriate, medicines that will help to clear up the problem. Some pharmacies also provide leaflets about particular minor ailments, such as athlete’s foot and head lice. Patients can take these leaflets home and refer to them for further information and advice. If your problem is more serious and needs the attention of a GP, your pharmacist should recognise this and advise you to see your GP.
NHS 111 is a relatively new service introduced in 2013 that replaced NHS Direct in England and NHS 24 in Scotland. NHS 111 is the number that you should call when you need urgent advice or medical treatment, and you cannot wait for an appointment to see your doctor. The NHS 111 service is staffed by fully trained advisers, supported by experienced nurses and paramedics. They ask questions to assess your symptoms, then give you the healthcare advice you need or direct you to the local service that can help you best.
NHS Choices recommends to call 111 if:
- you need medical help fast but it’s not a 999 emergency
- you think you need to go to A&E or need another NHS urgent care service
- you don’t know who to call or you don’t have a GP to call
- you need health information or reassurance about what to do next.
For immediate, life-threatening emergencies, continue to call 999.
Visit Accident and Emergency (A&E) for urgent care in the case of:
- infected wounds and foreign bodies
- head injuries or loss of consciousness
- suspected broken bones or heavy blood loss
- suspected stroke
- persistent chest pain or difficulty breathing
- overdose or poisoning
- serious accidents.
Please click here to access information about common illnesses and their usual duration
Please click here to access information about what to do if your child has a fever
Please click here to access information about when a Pharmacist may be able to help with your symptoms
Please click here to access information about Pharmacist advice
Please click here to access information about Pharmacy Services
Please click here to access information about what to have in your winter medicine cabinet
Please click here to access information about who to contact for advice
Please click here to access information about coughs, colds, earache and sore throats in children
Please click here to access information about symptom management of common illnesses
Please click here to access information about managing a long term condition