By Dr Paul Dudley, a Kingstanding GP
As the Prescribing Lead for my practice I am responsible for promoting best practice when it comes to antibiotic prescribing.
Antibiotics are essential medicines for treating bacterial infections. However, they are losing their effectiveness because bacteria can find ways to survive the effects of an antibiotic. They become ‘antibiotic resistant’ and they don’t just infect you; they can spread to other people in close contact with you. There are very few new antibiotics in development, which is why it is important we use our existing antibiotics wisely and make sure these lifesaving medicines continue to stay effective for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.
GPs and nurses are working hard to ensure that we only prescribe antibiotics when they are really needed. At this time of year I see lots of patients who are feeling unwell with conditions such as coughs, colds, sore throats and ear infections. But did you know that the vast majority of these are caused by viral infections and because of this, antibiotics have no effect on them at all? In fact, for most patients, even if your cough or ear infection is caused by bacteria; antibiotics are unlikely to get you better any quicker than your body’s own immune system. Antibiotics can also have side effects such as diarrhoea or nausea.
I can assure you that if I don’t prescribe an antibiotic it is not because of cost (the antibiotics I prescribe cost virtually nothing compared to the cost of other medicines) or time pressures (it’s much quicker to prescribe an antibiotic than to take a full history, examine you and give you a full explanation). If I don’t prescribe an antibiotic it is because I want to do the best for my patients for now and for the future.
Of course, some people, such as those with other health problems or severe infections, may need an antibiotic. If we do prescribe you an antibiotic then it is important that you follow the instructions carefully; take the antibiotic as instructed, at the correct time and for the right number of days. Never save antibiotics for later or share them with others.
European Antibiotic Awareness Day is on 18 November. It aims to raise awareness on how to use antibiotics in a responsible way that will help keep them effective for the future. We are supporting this day with the National Antibiotic Guardian Campaign. I have pledged to become an Antibiotic Guardian – you too can take part by choosing a pledge and becoming an Antibiotic Guardian yourself here.
Find out more about Antibiotic Awareness Week here.