Antibiotics are one of the most relied on tools in modern healthcare. Without the protection they confer, a host of commonplace infections could not be treated and procedures would not be able to take place. Antibiotics have revolutionised the way that infection is treated and controlled, reducing mortality and morbidity from bacterial infections. But the flip side of this is that due to overuse and misuse the number of bacteria that have acquired resistance to broadspectrum antibiotics is growing.
The WHO has called for urgent responsible action over the use of antbiotics and has suggested that the three key groups that can make a difference are: healthcare providers prescribing antibiotics, the public who take them and the pharmaceutical industry that can work towards next-generation antibiotics. Nurses can raise the public's awareness about the effectiveness of antibiotics - they are useless against colds and the flu, the importance of taking them as directed, not missing doses and not saving them to use later or to pass on to others etc. Nurse prescribers can consider the necessity of antibiotics before they are prescribed and where possible accurately diagnose a patient's symptoms to minimise overuse of broadspectrum antibiotics.
To assist with this, the Royal College of General Practitioners provides an Antibiotic Toolkit and resources which can be accessed in the Clinical section of its website. The Department of Health published the UK Five-Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy 2013-2018 online in September.
If everyone works together to change attitudes and behaviours, the risk of returning to a time when relatively common infections were unmanageable will be lowered and healthcare gains will be protected.