GPs warned to 'get tough' on antibiotic prescribing

GPs must 'get tough' and refuse antibiotics to patients who don't urgently need them to avert a crisis in antimicrobial resistance, the leaders of several royal colleges have warned.

Antibiotics: GPs urged to cut inappropriate use (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)
Antibiotics: GPs urged to cut inappropriate use (Photo: Jason Heath Lancy)

Prescribing antibiotics to patients with minor illnesses to be ‘better safe than sorry’ is not only ineffective but potentially dangerous in the long term, the experts warned in guidance issued on Monday.

The Joint Statement on Antimicrobial Resistance sets out how GPs and other health professionals should take ‘personal responsibility’ for re-educating the public on antibiotics and dispelling prevailing attitudes of them being a ‘cure all’.

Further recommendations include introducing minimum dosage requirements and improving how prescriptions for antibiotics are monitored.

The guidance was jointly published by the RCGP, Royal College of Physicians, Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the Royal College of Nursing, and the UK Faculty of Public Health. It marks the first time healthcare and public bodies have joined forces to clamp down on antibiotic misuse.

Clamp-down on unnecessary prescription

The call to arms comes as the MPs' Science and Technology Committee published a report warning that ‘poor stewardship’ and unnecessary use of antibiotics in healthcare – including general practice – is exacerbating the growing resistance problem.

MPs in the committee called on the government to put ‘urgent measures in place to drastically reduce the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics’, and said that it should ‘set clear responsibilities at all levels of the NHS’ in an upcoming action plan for its Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy.

They added that this should include a greater focus on antimicrobial resistance education for medical students and throughout a health professional’s career.

RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said there was a ‘worrying reliance’ on antibiotics, and that GPs regularly see patients who demand antibiotics as a cure-all treatment.

She said: ‘GPs face enormous pressure to prescribe them even though we know that infections adapt to the antibiotics used to kill them and, over time, they can make treatment ineffective.

‘We need to do everything we can to prevent bacteria building up a resistance to antibiotics, so patients can use them in the future, when they might really need them.’

5,000 dead due to resistant Escherichia coli

CMO Professor Dame Sally Davies has previously raised concerns about the threat posed by antibiotic resistance, and said she was looking forward to seeing the recommendations being adopted.

She said: ‘The threat from drug-resistant infections is real. Last year, an estimated 5,000 people in England died from antibiotic-resistant E. coli infections and this is set to rise if we do not act now.

‘Healthcare staff, pharmacists and public health workers are on the front line in our battle against growing bacterial resistance. How they carry out their everyday practice can make a real difference.’

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