RCGP criticises GP at Hand video showing antibiotics prescribed for sore throat

A promotional video for Babylon GP at Hand that shows a patient with a sore throat being prescribed antibiotics risks undermining GPs' professionalism and is 'profoundly unhelpful', according to the RCGP.

Smartphone consultation (Photo: iStock.com/fatesun)
Smartphone consultation (Photo: iStock.com/fatesun)

The 19-second video, which appears on the Babylon GP at Hand website's homepage, depicts a patient using the video consultation service to contact her doctor via a smartphone.

The patient complains of a ‘really sore throat’, to which the GP responds by offering 'a prescription for some penicillin'.

Babylon, the private company behind the GP at Hand service, said the service was 'working hard' to ensure its prescribing was appropriate. But RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the promotional video was 'inappropriate'.

Antibiotic prescribing

‘The message we need to get across to everyone,’ Professor Stokes-Lampard told GPonline, 'and have been working hard to do so, is that antibiotics are not a "cure all" for every ailment - and most sore throats will get better on their own after a few days.

‘Whatever the intent of this video may be, it certainly isn’t useful to show a patient so easily able to access antibiotics - particularly for a condition for which antibiotics are usually inappropriate.’

A spokesperson for Babylon said: ‘Babylon GP at Hand is prescribing appropriately and helping fight against antimicrobial resistance. We’ve been working hard to ensure we’re prescribing appropriately through regular audit and peer learning, made possible by recording all digital appointments, and by carefully managing clinical workloads.’

However, Professor Stokes-Lampard added that growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a ‘real and dangerous issue to us all’, and argued that the video gave an unfair representation of GPs at a time when they are working hard to reduce prescriptions for antibiotics.

Sore throats

‘We need patients to understand that these drugs should not be used for minor ailments, such as most sore throats, in otherwise healthy people.'

Any suggestion that patients can access antibiotics easily 'not only undermines the professionalism of GPs', but is also 'profoundly unhelpful’, she added.

Public Health England's (PHE's) national Keep Antibiotics Working campaign aims to ‘reduce inappropriate prescriptions for antibiotics by raising awareness of the issue of antibiotic resistance and reducing demand from the public’. The campaign highlights sore throats as a ‘common illness’ which ‘usually gets better by itself’ without any need for antibiotics.

NICE guidance on sore throats released earlier this year advised GPs: ‘antibiotics are not an effective treatment for the majority of sore throats,’ and that patients should instead be given paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Prescribing rate

Earlier this year, a study published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine found that video consultations could lead to increased rates of antibiotic prescribing.

Babylon said via Twitter that its GP at Hand service was 'in the lowest two deciles of all NHS general practices' for antibiotic prescribing.

GPs responding on Twitter questioned whether the data cited by Babylon GP at Hand reflected its predominantly young, healthy population.

Nottingham GP Dr Prakash Kachhala wrote on Twitter: 'If you're only seeing simple UTI, and nothing more complex compared to the average GP, [I'd] suggest adjusting those figures.'

NHS England chose not to comment.

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