Public risking future generations' lives with inappropriate demands for antibiotics, says government campaign

Parents are being warned that antibiotic resistance threatens their children's future and could cause more deaths globally than cancer and diabetes in 30 years' time, in a campaign urging them to accept medical advice on antibiotics.

One of the posters being used in PHE's new campaign
One of the posters being used in PHE's new campaign

Public Health England’s Keep Antibiotics Working campaign, initially launched in 2017, was relaunched last week amid mounting concern over a rising number of antibiotic-resistant infections.

Death toll

The health body’s latest English Surveillance Programme for Antimicrobial Utilisation and Resistance report revealed that there were an estimated 61,000 antibiotic resistant infections in England during 2018 - a nine per cent rise from 2017.

Some 2,492 people died in England last year [2018] from antibiotic-resistant infections, up from an estimated 2,288 deaths in 2017, according to the report, which was released last month.

Celebrity doctor

The campaign is reusing TV adverts featuring red and white pills singing about the deathly consequences of taking antibiotics when you don’t need to. 

And it has refreshed existing videos for use on social media. A number feature TV presenter Dr Ranj Singh, who says: "Antibiotic resistance threatens your childrens’ future. In 30 years antibiotic resistance could cause more deaths worldwide than cancer and diabetes combined. Don’t put your children's future at risk." 

Campaign details

The campaign has been launched ahead of World Antibiotic Awareness Week, which starts next Monday, and the winter flu season. 

It will run across England for eight weeks and aims to reduce the demand for antibiotics – with messaging of the dangers of antibiotics not working in the future – and encourage people to accept medical advice about whether antibiotics are needed.

Although aimed at all adults, the campaign is particularly targeted at those most likely to use antibiotics.

These groups include women aged 20-45 who tend to have primary responsibility for family health as children are a key group who use antibiotics; as well as those aged over 50.

In addition to PR, and advertising on TV, radio, video on demand, digital, social media and search engines, the campaign is being promoted via partnerships with healthcare professionals and local authorities.

The public have "little understanding of the concept of antibiotic resistance and what it means for them" PHE’s campaign website states.

"Research shows that inappropriate prescribing is, in part, due to patients expecting or demanding antibiotics, without understanding whether they may not be effective for their illness," it adds.

Research company Kantar will be used to measure the effectiveness of the campaign in not only raising awareness but also changing behaviour.

Medical warnings

Dr Susan Hopkins, PHE’s lead on antimicrobial resistance, said: "We want the public to join us in tackling antibiotic resistance by listening to your GP, pharmacist or nurse’s advice and only taking antibiotics when necessary."

Taking antibiotics unnecessarily "can have grave consequences for you and your family’s health, now and in the future", she added.

"It’s worrying that more infections are becoming resistant to these life-saving medicines, and we must act now to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them."

And Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: "We need the public to understand that antibiotics are neither a cure nor an appropriate treatment for many minor self-limiting conditions and viral infections, and if a GP advises against antibiotics, they are doing their best for the patient’s own good, and that of wider society."

More progress needed

There has been a 17% drop in antibiotic prescriptions written and dispensed in general practice since 2014.

But chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty commented: "The decrease in consumption of antibiotics is good news but the rise in resistant infections shows the threat is increasing and so there is more to be done."

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