Dr Ron Daniels, of the UK Sepsis Trust, said the new NHS advice was ‘concerning’
Health chiefs were last night accused of putting children’s lives at risk with a campaign to divert parents away from GP surgeries and hospitals.
NHS England today launches a TV campaign urging parents to go to a pharmacist rather than doctors or A&E if their child is suffering a ‘minor’ illness.
But experts said the symptoms of a cold or flu were difficult to distinguish from the early signs of life-threatening problems such as sepsis or meningitis – and the time lost through consulting a pharmacist could be fatal.
Dr Ron Daniels, of the UK Sepsis Trust, said the new NHS advice was ‘concerning’, adding: ‘It could be potentially dangerous. Pharmacists do not receive training in differentiating between minor ailments and serious illness.
‘When patients have come to harm we find time and again that they have been incorrectly reassured by a health professional of some sort.’
He said persuading people to use pharmacies was ‘sensible guidance’, but added: ‘This should have been caveated.
‘If a child has symptoms of infection but the parents are concerned and suspect their child might be more seriously unwell, it’s important that they are encouraged to trust their instincts.’
The Daily Mail has battled to raise awareness and prevent needless deaths with the End the Sepsis Scandal campaign.
Both sepsis and meningitis are notoriously difficult to diagnose until they have spread throughout the body.
If caught early, they can usually be controlled with antibiotics.
But if not spotted soon enough, there is little that can be done once the condition has spread.
Every 30-minute delay in treating a patient with sepsis increases the risk of death by 7 per cent.
Melissa Whiteley, 18, died last month after following NHS advice to stay home when she came down with flu
Flu girl’s delay proved fatal
Melissa Whiteley, 18, died last month after following NHS advice to stay home when she came down with flu.
When her parents took her to hospital a few days after she fell ill, the engineering student from Stoke-on-Trent was diagnosed with flu, pneumonia, sepsis and a fungal infection.
She died on January 27.
Melissa’s mother Sharon said: ‘We read all the warnings about not coming to hospital if you have a cold or the flu.
‘It’s so frustrating that we delayed taking her in because of that.’
The NHS has long tried to take pressure off A&Es and GPs by persuading patients to use services such as the 111 hotline, walk-in centres and pharmacies.
After the busiest winter on record, hospitals are close to capacity – but experts warn that small children are one group the NHS should not take risks with.
Today the NHS will publish data showing only 6 per cent of parents with under-fives would consider seeking help from a high street pharmacist in the first instance.
It also says millions of GP appointments and A&E visits are for self-treatable conditions such as coughs and tummy troubles, at a cost of more than £850million each year to the NHS.
Dr Tom Nutt, of the Meningitis Now charity, said it was right to promote ‘underutilised’ pharmacies, but added: ‘We are however concerned that putting another step in the process of diagnosis for something like meningitis could result in valuable time lost.’
Dr Bruce Warner, of NHS England, said: ‘Pharmacists are highly trained NHS health professionals who are able to offer clinical advice and effective treatments for a wide range of minor health concerns there and then.
‘However, if symptoms suggest it is something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need.’