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RCN backs call to 'get tough' with patients over antibiotics

Nurses, doctors and pharmacists are being urged to say “no” to patients who ask for antibiotics to treat minor illnesses.

A group of leading organisations, including the Royal College of Nursing, have warned that the current “better safe than sorry” approach to prescribing antibiotics is no longer effective and that a radical new approach is needed if antibiotics are to remain effective in future.

“It is imperative that doctors, nurses and pharmacists start talking about the alternatives available to patients who ask for antibiotics to treat minor illnesses”

Maureen Baker

In a statement issued this week, they call on frontline health professionals to resist pressure from patients for unnecessary prescriptions, and explore alternatives with them.

They also call for health professionals to take personal responsibility for re-educating the public about the potentially disastrous consequences that can result if antibiotics are over-used or misused.

The Joint Statement on Antimicrobial Resistance has been published by the Royal College of General Practitioners, the Royal College of Physicians, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, the RCN and the UK Faculty of Public Health.

It marks the first time that health care and public health bodies have joined forces as part of a global clampdown on antibiotic misuse and overuse.

The statement sets out how health professionals can challenge current attitudes that antibiotics are a “cure all”.

In addition, it calls on patients to take some responsibility for strengthening their own defences against disease, by considering alternatives to antibiotics or allowing minor viral infections to clear up in their own time.

Further recommendations for health care professionals include:

  • Improving the monitoring of prescriptions for antibiotics
  • Introducing a minimum dosage for antibiotics
  • Revising the guidance on antibiotic dosage
  • Mandating the labelling of foods that use antibiotics as growth promoters
  • Introducing incentives to reduce international use of antibiotics in animals for slaughter and restrict their use in crop production, and
  • More action to develop new antibiotics and their alternatives

The publication comes in the wake of concerns raised by chief medical officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, that resistance to antibiotics now poses a significant threat to the population’s health and that urgent action is needed to curb their use. A five-year strategy was published by Public Health England in September last year.

Last week the prime minister issued a statement warning that the world could soon be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine” if governments and drug firms failed to act, and called for new antibiotics to be developed.

RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker, said: “It is imperative that doctors, nurses and pharmacists start talking about the alternatives available to patients who ask for antibiotics to treat minor illnesses. 

Maureen Baker

Maureen Baker

“Many patients now seem them as a cure-all, even for minor symptoms which will get better on their own or can be treated effectively with other forms of medication,” she said.

Tom Sandford, director of RCN England, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is increasingly recognised as one of the major health challenges of our age.

Tom Sandford

Tom Sandford

“Working with our colleagues across the health professions, the RCN supports efforts to educate health workers, patients, and the public about antimicrobial resistance and why we need to change the way that we use antibiotics,” he said.

“Overuse of antibiotics increases the rate of resistance and further depletes the efficacy of antimicrobial drugs,” said Mr Sandford. “This joint statement sets out our determination to tackle this hugely serious issue.”

As part of the initiative to take the work further, clinicians will come together at a national summit on 6 November to look at how they can work collaboratively together and with patients to tackle antibiotic resistance.

Readers' comments (3)

  • I am very please with this approach , managing peoples' expectation will create it's own drama. However if reducing antibiotic use will reduce risk of resistance this approach must be extended to vetinary practise. it is amazing the number of pets that are prescribed abx. and they are widly used in dairy herds and calf rearing.

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  • If only that would happen, after studying microbiology for a year at Uni and doing my major assignment on antibiotics I have become quite vocal about how using antibiotics for viral infection (generally known as the common cold, etc) is a waste, but people insist that they are feeling so much better within a day or so of taking the antibiotics, surprise surprise that is your own immune system making you feel better that would have occurred without the antibiotics and then guess what, they stop taking the antibiotics because they feel better. More use of narrow spectrum antibiotics would also be handy but people do not want to wait a few days for clinical testing to find out what the actual bacteria is that is causing the problem, so hence they end up on a broad spectrum antibiotic that also kills of the good and helpful bacteria. Not all bacteria is harmful.

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  • Mixed feelings.
    I do understand the principle, but as someone with an underlying medical condition which means I've gone from fighting off infections & working through them to being sofa-bound for 3 weeks whenever get a chest infection, I find the anti-antibiotics mantra frustrating. I don't walk straight into GP's requesting, but now have to wait 3 weeks before can get antibiotics as a principle/we'll assume it's viral policy. I feel like I've now become 'patient from hell' for requesting antibiotics (which I never did pre-underlying condition), but when finally get, yes, I start being able to move around my own flat within 48 hours.

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