7 July 2014

Health Workers Urged to Get Tough on Antibiotics

Doctors, nurses and pharmacists are being urged to get tough on antibiotics, and say ‘no’ to patients who ask for prescriptions to treat minor illnesses.

Health chiefs warn that the current ‘better safe than sorry’ approach to prescribing antibiotics is no longer effective – and can be dangerous in the long-term. 

They say that a radical new approach is needed if antibiotics are to remain effective to combat more serious illnesses and diseases in future.

In new guidance issued today, 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.

Jointly published by the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP),  the Royal College of Physicians (RCP), the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS), the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) and the UK Faculty of Public Health (FPH), the Joint Statement on Antimicrobial Resistance sets out how health professionals can challenge current attitudes that antibiotics are a ‘cure all’.

It also 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.

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 publication comes in the wake of concerns raised by Chief Medical Officer (CMO) 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.

This week, the Prime Minister warned 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.

As part of the initiative to take this work further, pharmacists, doctors, nurses and public health professionals will come together at a national summit on 6 November 2014 to look at how healthcare professionals can work collaboratively together and with patients to tackle antibiotic resistance.

RCGP Chair, Dr Maureen Baker, said:

“Antibiotics can work brilliantly, as long as they are properly prescribed and used appropriately.

“But we have developed a worrying reliance on them and 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.

“GPs face enormous pressure to prescribe them even though we know that infections adapt to the antibiotics used to kill them and, over time, they can make treatment ineffective.

“Our patients and the public need to be aware of the risks associated with inappropriate use of antibiotics and how to use them responsibly. 

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

“We need to do everything we can to prevent bacteria building up a resistance to antibiotics, so patients can use them in the future, when they might really need them.”


Further Information

RCGP Press office - 020 3188 7574/7575/7576
Out of hours: 0203 188 7659

Notes to editor

The Royal College of General Practitioners is a network of more than 44,000 family doctors working to improve care for patients. We work to encourage and maintain the highest standards of general medical practice and act as the voice of GPs on education, training, research and clinical standards.