General practice staff should encourage patients to visit pharmacists before they prescribe antibiotics, according to new guidance launched by Public Health England.
The guidance, Health matters, states that general practices should anticipate an influx of patients over the winter with flulike symptoms. These patients often expect antibiotics to treat common symptoms such as coughs and colds. While some infections that cause these symptoms are bacterial, flu is caused by influenza viruses that do not respond to antibiotics. This can lead to the inappropriate prescription of the drugs, which is a major factor in the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria.
‘Antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem and represents a major threat to public health,’ said PHE chief executive Duncan Selbie. ‘We rely heavily on antibiotics and the pressure on healthcare professionals to prescribe is great, even when they are not needed.’
The resource is targeted at all sectors of the health services but is especially relevant for primary care staff. Recent data from PHE showed that while the total number of prescriptions given out has decreased, total antibiotic consumption in primary care increased by 6.5% between 2011 and 2014.
‘Antimicrobial resistance is an ever increasing issue and the messages contained in this edition of Health matters reflect the current situation we are facing,’ said Harpal Dhillon, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Expert Group on Antimicrobial Resistance. ‘All healthcare professionals, including pharmacists have a role to play in slowing down antimicrobial resistance. It is therefore important to circulate this content to all pharmacists in all sectors as a resource to help educate their patients about the need to use antibiotics appropriately.’
‘We need to conserve antibiotics and use them appropriately or we risk losing the power of these medicines,’ added Mr Selbie. ‘This second edition of Health matters focuses on inappropriate use and overuse of antibiotics and sets out how local authorities and the NHS can work together to tackle one of the most significant threats to public health.’