The concept of ‘self-care’ has gained serious traction in recent years, with more and more people emphasising the importance of taking time out to care for yourself in the name of mental and physical health.
However, for many, self-care seems to have become shorthand for spur of the moment decisions and over indulgence.
While a luxurious bubble bath followed by a night in front of the TV with a pizza can certainly do people good, if they return to their stressful life immediately afterwards and continue the very behaviours that made them feel bad in the first place, the cycle will continue.
So, with Self Care Week well underway, there’s never been a better time to reevaluate what the term actually means for the NHS and its patients.
Each year, Self Care Week has a different focus. This time, it’s “choosing self care for life”, a fitting phrase when there’s clearly a desperate need for more sustainable self-care solutions.
In a blog posted on the NHS Confederation website earlier this week, co-chair of NHS Clinical Commissioners, Dr Graham Jackson, wrote: “Traditionally when we think of self-care, it can be the well-stocked bathroom cabinet brimming with over the counter products that comes to mind, but it is much more than that.
“The unremarkable ways we look after ourselves such as brushing our teeth, exercising, and getting enough sleep – not to mention more significant changes like giving up smoking – can have significant benefits for individuals by preventing poor health in the first place and allowing the body to recover from illness more quickly.”
However, thanks to the rise in desk jobs, growing financial stresses, and increasing pressure for employees to work overtime, caring for oneself can be a real struggle.
It can be a challenge to fit regular workouts, a good night’s sleep, and socialising into an already hectic schedule of work, chores and essential life errands.
For the NHS, the term self-care refers to the moves that patients can make to look after their health, reduce their likelihood of illness, and in turn, help the NHS care for those in real need.
Dr Jackson writes: “As clinical commissioners, our priority is getting the best value from the NHS’s finite resources, so NHSCC has been working with NHS England on behalf of its members to develop new commissioning guidance for over the counter items which should not routinely be prescribed in primary care, which was published in March this year.
“This guidance applies to self-limiting conditions which do not need treatment such as coughs and colds, or are better suited to self-care, like indigestion or verrucae, which can be treated with easily available over the counter products. This initiative alone has the potential to release up to £136 million each year which can then be recycled into higher priority areas.”
However, workplace pressures and a lack of free time aren’t the only obstacles to maintaining good self care practices. Money can also play a role, particularly when it comes to accessing treatments and/or medications that the NHS is unable to offer or GPs are discouraged from prescribing. Therefore, it’s essential that the health service and practitioners are willing to assess each patient’s need individually.
Dr Jackson reassures that self care isn’t about “leaving patients to get on with it”.
He emphasises that “as clinicians our priority must be to get the right patient the right treatment. Encouraging self-care with support, will educate and empower the population.”