Column: Questions you need to ask your doctor

Patients are being asked to choose their care wisely
Patients are being asked to choose their care wisely

It’s important that you take as much responsibility for your health as possible, so this week I’m launching a new Doncaster-wide campaign to encourage you to ask these five questions when you discuss a health problem with your GP.

Do I really need this test or procedure? What are the risks of downsides? What are the possible side-effects? Are there simpler, safer options? What if I do nothing?

I’ve borrowed them from a national campaign called Choosing Wisely as the answers will help you and your doctor to jointly make better choices about your care. It may also avoid unnecessary tests or procedures that are unlikely to be of any benefit.

Choosing Wisely was introduced by leading medical colleges to highlight that all tests, procedures and interventions have side effects and some may even cause harm. It challenges the idea that more is better, or in the case of a medical intervention: just because we can doesn’t mean we should.

Information about Choosing Wisely will soon start appearing in local GP practices.

You, as a patient, need to play your part in what should be shared decision making about all aspects of your care.

It’s important because this month the NHS in Doncaster has introduced ‘best practice’ guidelines to help patients and doctors discuss when the right time is to have surgery. The affected treatments are non-cancerous skin lesion; removal of gall bladder; interventional treatment for haemorrhoids; hernia repair; cataract surgery; hip and knee replacement for osteoarthritis; carpal tunnel syndrome; and common hand conditions.

The procedures above won’t stop altogether and if you are currently on a waiting list for one you will not be affected. But from now your GP will only be able to refer you after you have met certain criteria. There are inherent risks associated with surgery and we are asking that this is considered only after other non-surgical options – called thresholds – have been tried. This could, for example, be trying medication first to manage your health problem.

It means the NHS will, for example, no longer pay for moles to be removed for cosmetic reasons or for acupuncture for lower back pain and sciatica.

If your doctor thinks you have exceptional circumstances and may benefit from a treatment that is not routinely funded, there is a process where they can make an application on your behalf which will be considered by an independent panel.

Doncaster clinicians are working hard to manage a rising demand for services from a finite workforce and funding. Any savings will be re-invested into other services for local people. These new guidelines should also help those most in need of an operation to be seen promptly.