Half of patients expect antibiotics for coughs and colds

Half of patients expect to be prescribed antibiotics for coughs and colds, a Health Protection Agency (HPA) survey has found.

10% of patients admitted they kept a supply of left over antibiotics at home
10% of patients admitted they kept a supply of left over antibiotics at home

A poll of 1,767 found that 53% of adults who had recently visited their GP with a respiratory tract infection were expecting antibiotics. In addition, 97% said that the last time they asked their GP or nurse for an antibiotic they were prescribed one.

One in 10 people also admitted they kept a supply of left over antibiotics at home. But 70% of respondents said they recognised that antibiotic resistance was a problem in the UK.

The HPA conducted the poll ahead of European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November.

Dr Cliodna McNulty, the HPA’s head of primary care and lead on European Antibiotic Awareness Day, said health professionals needed ‘to learn to resist demands from patients for treatments they know have little or no effect on coughs and colds’.

'Although the public recognises resistance as a problem, our findings show that people expect, and are often prescribed, antibiotics for mild illnesses such as coughs, colds and sore throats, she said.

'Most coughs, colds and flu are caused by viruses and these do not respond to treatment using antibiotics, she added. 'Some people, particularly those with underlying health conditions, may suffer with complications as a result of these illnesses and should seek medical attention but the majority of people can treat themselves at home using OTC medicines to relieve symptoms.'

A report on antibiotic stewardship has also been issued by a group including RCGP prescribing lead Dr Martin Duerden and DoH advisers to coincide with European Antibiotic Awareness Day.

The report recommended that GP adopt a delayed prescribing model and use risk calculators to identify patients at risk of side effects of antibiotic treatment.

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