Minister prescribes NHS self-help on the Internet

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PATIENTS COULD be offered access to the Internet on the NHS to help to relieve the pressure on family doctors.

The Health minister John Denham will today tell a London health conference that he wants to see the Internet used in libraries and high street pharmacies to help patients to help themselves.

Ministers stressed that they would not be asking patients to treat themselves. "We are not talking about putting a medical dictionary on the Net and asking people to cure themselves. There is demand for information about healthy living. We are not talking about self-diagnosis," a Whitehall source said.

Community pharmacists could also be given the power to prescribe for the first time on a limited list in response to the Crown Report, published last week, which recommended an expansion of carefully controlled prescribing beyond GPs to other health professionals, including nurses.

Patients could be allowed for the first time to consult pharmacists and get prescriptions on the spot, on strictly limited protocols agreed with the professions.

Mr Denham, more controversially, will urge the NHS to match the service to patients that is offered to customers by many high street outlets including banks and hotels.

He is expected to tell the conference: "The public is becoming less willing to accept that there must be a big gap between accessibility and responsiveness of public services and the accessibility and responsiveness of commercial services."

Mr Denham will assure the health service management conference that he is not calling for the NHS to match private health clinics.

Giving patients access to information about health management proved valuable in one trial where GPs provided data showing that the over- use of antibiotics was undermining their effectiveness. There followed a sharp drop in demand for antibiotics.

But underlying the Government's drive to reduce the demands on GPs is the conviction that with limited resources from taxpayers, other ways must be found to meet the almost unlimited demand for health services.

A radical Tory alternative encouraging the use of more private sector care will be put forward tonight by Alan Duncan, a Tory spokesman on health, in a speech to the Social Market Foundation.