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Health workers urged to get tough on antibiotics

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

Health organisations 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, 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.

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 (AMR) (links to a pdf) 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 healthcare 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
  • More action to develop new antibiotics and their alternatives.

It marks the first time that healthcare 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.

Last 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.

Written: 08/07/2014 , last modified: 15/01/2015