Judge and Jury: Action needs to be taken to curb the prescription of antibiotics - The Government needs to act quickly if it wants to prevent more strains of antibiotic resitant bacteria from emerging, says Rachel Dalton, director of healthcare, Charles B

The Department of Health (DoH) launched a new campaign last week, aimed at curbing the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria.

The Department of Health (DoH) launched a new campaign last week,

aimed at curbing the increase in antibiotic resistant bacteria.

Antibiotics have revolutionised medical care in the 20th century - about

50 million prescriptions are issued each year in the UK alone - however,

the emergence of bacteria with immunity to these drugs (’superbugs’) is

threatening to destroy this advance within the next 25 years. It is

widely accepted that the superbug is a result of irrational prescribing


It is estimated that up to 75 per cent of antibiotic use is of

questionable therapeutic value.

Initially, the DoH’s campaign will target medical professionals.

Ministers have agreed in principle to the need for a patient awareness

campaign, but as yet there is no indication of the form this is likely

to take.

Not surprisingly, press attention so far has concentrated on slapdash

prescribing habits by GPs. Little attention has been given to the fact

that patients are in some ways also to blame for expecting anti-biotics

for almost every ailment. And many patients fail to complete the full

course, which means that the ailment fails to clear up and bacteria are

able to develop a resistance.

The majority of doctors are already well aware of the statistics linking

irrational antibiotic prescribing and microbial resistance. The new DoH

guidelines should prove extremely useful and the British Medical

Association and Royal College of General Practitioners have certainly

welcomed them.

But if the problem lies in patient expectations, as some GPs suggest,

why then hasn’t the Government commenced implementation of an effective

patient education campaign?

Bacterial resistance to anti-biotics has received wide-spread media

coverage, so patients should be receptive to the message that the DoH

will want to convey. As with most educational campaigns, the success

lies mainly in the timing. The Government must act before the

credibility of doctors is further undermined by scare-mongering in the

media. Like the Millennium bug, the antibiotic resistance crisis is a

global problem.

The UK campaign cannot hope to solve the entire problem alone. The DoH

estimates that the misuse of antibiotics wastes pounds 34 million of NHS

funds each year. So, apart from the timing being right for a campaign,

there is the added incentive of what could be a quite significant

reduction in the hugely expensive NHS prescription bill.

The arguments for the Government to act now are strong, and in many ways

are a test of the DoH’s understanding of PR. Let’s hope they do not

leave it too late to act.

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