People should stop asking GPs for antibiotics, according to a new campaign from Public Health England (PHE).
The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign intends to stop the increasing growth of antibiotic-resistant diseases caused by overuse of the medicines.
The organisation claims that up to one in five prescriptions are unnecessary and patients could recover just by going home and resting. By 2050 there are fears that drug-resistant infections could kill more people than currently die of cancer.
Although antibiotics can be vital in certain cases – such as sepsis, bacterial meningitis and other severe infections – they do not make a major impact on the recovery times of more minor but long-lasting illnesses such as throat infections and coughs.
Instead of expecting their doctor to prescribe the medicine for minor problems, patients are being told to rest, use pain relief and consume plenty of fluids.
“Without effective antibiotics, minor infections could become deadly and many medical advances could be at risk – surgery, chemotherapy and caesareans could become simply too dangerous,” explained Professor Dame Sally Davies, England’s chief medical officer.
“But reducing inappropriate use of antibiotics can help us stay ahead of superbugs. The public has a critical role to play and can help by taking collective action.
“I welcome the launch of the Keep Antibiotics Working campaign, and remember that antibiotics are not always needed so always take your doctor’s advice.”
Earlier this year, NICE called on GPs to take care when prescribing antibiotics for children’s ear infections. Instead, the organisation recommended pain relief medication and rest, which often clears up the problem in a matter of days.
The new campaign has been hailed as a positive move for public health in Britain, with the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for infection prevention and control, Rose Gallagher, calling it “an important step in the battle to protect our nation’s health.”
“We risk simple illnesses being prolonged and even turning fatal if this issue isn’t addressed. The nursing profession can make a significant contribution to limiting the threat of antimicrobial resistance and improving the long-term outlook of the NHS. Nursing staff must be given the resources and support to put this campaign into action,” Gallagher added.
“Lives are being lost prematurely – it is vital that the public are aware of the dangers of taking antibiotics when they don’t need to. We urge patients to listen to the advice from nurses and other health professionals on their use.”
An estimated 5,000 people each year die as a result of drug-resistant infections, and Davies has previously warned of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” when common diseases gain resistance.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “Antibiotics are highly-effective drugs when used appropriately, but we have become too dependent on them as a society – and if we don’t tackle this, it will have a terrible impact on patients' health globally.
“GPs are doing an excellent job at reducing antibiotics prescriptions, but we still come under considerable pressure from patients to prescribe them.
“We need to get to a stage where antibiotics are not seen as a 'catch all' for every illness – and patients need to understand that if their doctor does not prescribe antibiotics, it is because they genuinely believe that they are not the most appropriate treatment.”
The problem is widely accepted by the health community, with Health Education England (HEE) calling on providers in April to educate their staff on prescribing antibiotics.