Government to put DIY health guide in every home

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Every home in Britain could soon have its own bluffer's guide to medicine courtesy of the Government, allowing patients to diagnose and treat their own illnesses.

Every home in Britain could soon have its own bluffer's guide to medicine courtesy of the Government, allowing patients to diagnose and treat their own illnesses.

The aim of the do-it-yourself guide is to give every family the means to become their own doctor and nurse, taking the pressure off hard-pressed GP and hospital services. Where once every household had a family Bible, they will now have a government-issue medical encyclopaedia.

Critics say the guide will be a hypochondriacs' charter and that it could increase demand rather than reducing it. Patients may discover symptoms they never knew they had which require a hospital check.

More than a million copies of the 165-page book, the size of a telephone directory, have initially been printed and are being distributed free by GPs and nurses and sold through pharmacies at £1.99. The guide covers 200 conditions and is laid out in a series of flow charts which ask questions about symptoms and offer readers instructions about what to do.

Ministers believe the DIY guide, plus the telephone helpline NHS Direct and its internet site, will boost the population's self-reliance in medical matters.

Alan Milburn, the health secretary, said: "This is about saying that the NHS isn't just available in the hospital or in the doctor's surgery. The 21st century health service will be available in people's own homes." A spokesman added: "We have not printed 60 million copies because that is quite expensive but it is available nationally. The ultimate aim is to have one in every household."

Doctors' leaders warned that the guide could add to the NHS's problems. Dr Jim Johnson, chairman of the joint consultants committee of the BMA and the Royal Medical Colleges, said: "While I applaud any measure that raises the consciousness of the population about medical issues and helps them to look after themselves, this will not necessarily reduce demand or save the NHS money. It will probably give GPs a lot more work."

The guide covers the top 20 symptoms about which patients call NHS Direct. It includes advice on how to tell when a child is sick. In the section on rashes with a fever, the guide asks: "Is the person developing a rash that does not fade when you press a tumbler glass against it?" If the answer is yes, it says: "Dial 999" [the rash may be meningococcal septicaemia, a potentially fatal complication of meningitis].

If the answer is no, it asks: "Are the spots red and difficult to feel and is there a cough and runny nose?" If yes, that suggests the rash is viral and could be measles. If there are swellings on the neck it could be German measles; if the spots are turning into blisters it could be chickenpox. In such cases, the guide sets out how to care for patients at home.

Dr David Brookfield, consultant paediatrician at North Staffordshire Hospital and a member of the guide's editorial board, said: "I know young children who are ill can cause great anxiety to parents. The guide is a step in helping reassure parents and offering them some practical advice."

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