Treating minor health conditions (self care)


Minor health conditions are conditions that can be treated through self care.  They are conditions that will:

  • Get better on their own
  • Can be treated without visiting the GP by patients buying over the counter items directly

Effective 29 March 2018, NHS England issued guidance that over the counter items will no longer be routinely prescribed in primary care.  This means that your doctor, or other prescriber, will not routinely prescribe medicines for minor health conditions that can be purchased over the counter.* 

In most cases the direct cost of over the counter medicines will be lower than the combined cost to the NHS of a GP consultation, buying, prescribing and then dispensing the medicine.

Why is prescribing for minor health conditions changing?

The NHS currently spends around £136 million a year on prescriptions for medicines for minor health conditions that can be bought from a pharmacy or local shops, such as paracetamol.

Wandsworth CCG supports the implementation of this guidance along with other CCGs in south west London as described in our agreed position statement

The guidance is about reducing the prescribing of medicines or treatments for minor health conditions that are available to buy over the counter, and has been informed by a national public consultation (2017), financial pressures experienced by the NHS and the duty to spend tax payers' money wisely and to best effect.  

What is a minor health condition?

Many minor health conditions are best treated at home with rest and advice, and over the counter medicines from your local pharmacist if needed with no need to see a doctor or nurse.  We call this self care.  

If your health condition is more serious and needs the attention of another healthcare professional, such as your GP, the pharmacist will advise you of this. Read more about pharmacy services on our pharmacies page.

Minor health conditions include:

  • coughs, colds or sore throats
  • cold sores
  • conjunctivitis or dry eyes
  • constipation
  • diarrhoea
  • grazes
  • sprains
  • hay fever
  • head lice
  • indigestion and heartburn
  • infrequent migraines
  • mild cystitis
  • mouth ulcers
  • sunburn
  • stomach ache
  • warts and verrucas

Why should I self care?

  • One in every five GP visits and many visits to A&E are for minor health conditions which could be treated with rest and advice from a pharmacist. 
  • Self care helps to free up some of your GP or nurse's time, making it easier to get an appointment when you have a more serious or complex condition.
  • Every time you see a GP it costs the NHS £36 on average, while a visit to A&E can cost £130. 
  • Self care helps ease the pressure on NHS services by managing most minor health conditions at home or with support from your community pharmacist.
  • Reducing the amount spent by your local NHS on medicines that are available for patients to buy over the counter and avoiding unnecessary GP appointments means that resources can be used to help those with more complex conditions.
  • Self care is also about looking after yourself when you are well. This could be anything from brushing your teeth, cutting back on drinking alcohol, stopping smoking, doing some exercise or getting vaccinations such as for flu or shingles. Read more on our self care page.

What do I do if I need urgent help?

NHS 111 is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and calls are free from landlines and mobile phones. Call 111 if you urgently need medical help but it's not a life-threatening situation. Find out more on our urgent care page. 

How can minor health conditions be treated?

Over the counter medicines are best for minor health conditions. These can include medicines for hay fever, sunscreens, creams for insect stings and bites as well pain relief medicines and cough and cold remedies. These can be bought from pharmacies and local shops without a prescription. They are also often cheaper this way. You can get them without an appointment or seeing a doctor.

Your pharmacist can give you advice about how to manage minor health conditions and what medications to take to treat them. Most pharmacists now have a private consultation area where you can have a confidential discussion.

Check your medicine cabinet, or create one, and make sure you have the following basics to hand for when you need them:

  • Painkillers such as paracetamol and ibuprofen
  • Sore throat, coughs, colds and flu medications
  • Heartburn and indigestion remedies
  • Anti-diarrhoea and constipation medication
  • Antihistamines (for a mild allergy)
  • Rehydration salts 
  • Pile (haemorrhoid) treatment 
  • Sunscreen
  • First aid kit including plasters, bandages, a thermometer and antiseptic cream

Do I need to visit a GP for a minor health condition?

No, minor health conditions can be treated without visiting the GP.  They will get better on their own.  You can seek advice and treatment from your local pharmacy who will be able to advise which over the counter medicine is best for you.  You will then be able to buy the medicine directly.  Keeping a well-stocked medicine cabinet is a good way to make sure you have appropriate medicines immediately available should you need them.

If your condition gets worse, doesn't improve or your situation is more complex, you can call 111 or your GP.

Where can I buy over the counter medicines?

You can buy over the counter medicines at the pharmacy and some other local shops – but you will only be able to get professional clinical advice from a pharmacist from your local pharmacy.   

I get free prescriptions, will I still be able to get these medicines with a free prescription?

Patients who receive free prescriptions are not automatically exempt.  This means that you will need to purchase over the counter medicines unless your GP assesses that one of the exceptions to the guidance applies to you.  

Do I need a prescription or written consent from a GP for medicine I give to the school / nursery for use with my child?

Non-prescription medicines (over the counter medicines) do not require any written consent from a GP or other healthcare professional to allow school and nursery staff to administer them.

All medication must only be administered to a child under the age of 16 where written permission for that particular medicine has been obtained from the child’s parent or carer.

What do I do now?

We encourage you to buy a range of over the counter medicines that are suitable for you and your family, and to keep them in stock in case of illness, that way they are quickly available when you need them.  Your local pharmacist will be able to advise which ones are most appropriate for you and your family.  You can pop in for advice any time during opening hours – there is no need to make an appointment. 

Please help the NHS to use resources more sensibly.

What do I do if I have a query or complaint?

As with all concerns, we hope that patients can be reassured at a practice level.  However, we recognise that there may be some patients who wish to raise this with the CCG in which case visit this page for further information.   

More information

*Doctors (prescribers) will use their clinical assessment skills and clinical judgement to assess patients and in exceptional circumstances (using approved exceptions provided by NHS England) may prescribe over the counter medicines if they think this is the most appropriate thing to do.  The exceptions can be found in the NHS England guidance.