Parents are being urged to take their children for minor illnesses before heading straight to the GP or A&E to ease pressure on doctors.
Parents with children who have minor illnesses should go to a pharmacy first instead of visiting their GP or A&E, a new NHS England campaign says.
It said each year there were about 18 million GP appointments and 2.1 million visits to A&E for so-called self-treatable conditions - costing the service the equivalent of more than 220,000 hip replacements or 880,000 cataract operations. Research for the NHS reveals just 6% of mums and dads with children under the age of five would consider seeking help - for minor illnesses - from a high street pharmacist.
More than a third (35%) would opt for an appointment with their GP while 5% of those questioned would choose emergency care as their first point of call. The pressures facing the NHS after years of underfunding and mismanagement of its workforce create a huge incentive to discourage people from using Global Positioning System or A&E.
Figures released from a pilot study last week show more than 1,200 patients who called NHS 111 over the winter have been seen by pharmacists instead of Global Positioning System or being sent to A&E.
Dr Bruce Warner, deputy chief pharmaceutical officer for 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 right there and then".
"However, if symptoms suggest it's something more serious, they have the right clinical training to ensure people get the help they need".
"Often people will be right to use alternatives, but we don't want to hear of more cases where someone has stayed away and subsequently come to serious harm because they were in fact seriously ill".
Meningitis Now said that it had "real concerns" that NHS England was putting another step in the process of quick diagnoses for conditions like Meningitis, which could result in lost time and increase the risk facing patients.
However, the Patients Association said it was important parents did not feel put off from seeing a doctor if they thought something more serious was wrong.
"We would recommend and urge parents to learn the signs and symptoms of the disease and trust their instincts to seek the appropriate medical intervention which in the case of suspected meningitis may not be a pharmacist, but a GP and or local A&E".