Self care for conjunctivitis could save 160,000 GP visits a year, warns RCGP

Schools are wasting around 160,000 GP appointments a year by refusing to admit children with conjunctivitis unless they have a prescription for antibiotics, the RCGP has warned.

Conjunctivitis is usually caused by a virus, allergic reaction or an irritant coming into contact with the eye and in most cases will clear up within two weeks without treatment, or with help from products available over the counter such as eye drops.

Most cases do not need antibiotics, the college says, pointing out that there is 'little evidence to show that they help the condition any more than waiting for it clear up naturally'.

Schools could save around 160,000 GP appointments - roughly equivalent to 27,000 hours of appointment time - every year by ending the practice of demanding antibiotics, the RCGP says.

As the national Self Care Week begins, the college has written to school inspectorate Ofsted to highlight how teachers in schools and nurseries could ease pressure on general practice by following correct clinical advice.

Antibiotic prescribing

Research published earlier this year in the British Journal of General Practice found that 87% of nursery schools exclude children with conjunctivitis and half refuse to admit them without a prescription for antibiotics.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said: 'We’re sure that nurseries and schools mean well by sending children home, or requiring them to take antibiotics, as a way of trying to contain cases of conjunctivitis.

'But they need to be aware of the huge impact this is having on GP workload and the amount of appointments we can offer, as well as on working families and wider society.

'GP practices are being swamped with requests for appointments and antibiotics to treat minor conditions, including conjunctivitis, and these cases are clogging up the system, which leads to longer waiting times for patients whose needs might be more urgent.

"Infective conjunctivitis is an unpleasant condition but antibiotics are not the answer in most cases – especially as it’s a viral infection where antibiotics are ineffective.'

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