According to a study conducted by The University College London and Public Health England, the proportion of patients being prescribed antibiotics for coughs and colds has increased by 40% this century. This is ironic keeping in mind the fact that antibiotics do not have any impact on the common coughs and colds. They are also known to work in only 10% of sore throat conditions.
The study evaluated data from 500 GP practices in the UK between 1999 and 2011. The findings reveal that the level of antibiotic prescriptions increased to 51% in 2011 as compared to 36% in 1999. Prime Minister David Cameron has already issued a word of caution that action should be taken with respect to this excessive prescription due to the threat of growing resistance to antibiotics. He warned that the world may be “cast back into the dark ages of medicine”.
The Department of Health has also recommended on the need to limit antibiotic prescriptions and not to prescribe them for coughs, colds and virus sore throats. In essence, doctors who prescribed an antibiotic for these conditions in 2011 to over 30% of patients did so against national guidelines.
Even antibiotic prescriptions for ear infections have increased in some places. The study shows that 10% of GP practices prescribed antibiotics to 97% of patients who complained of these problems.
This study highlights the need to make improvements in antibiotic prescribing. This is not to say that no case of cough, cold or sore throat needs antibiotics but it does point out that the use of antibiotics should be more appropriate. It is apparent that GPs today have developed a reliance on antibiotics and are prescribing them for even minor symptoms that would either get better on their own or that could be treated more effectively with other medications. Moreover, a large number of GPs are also under pressure from their patients to prescribe antibiotics.
This issue is a cause for concern since we are already fighting a battle against drug resistance. According to Dr. Maureen Baker of the Royal College of GPs, “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 also imperative that front line health professionals take a stand against excessive prescription of antibiotics and explore alternatives that could treat patients equally well.
The world cannot survive without antibiotics and if the rate of antibiotic prescription is not stopped in its track, a day might come when even the most common infections will not be treatable because of antibiotic resistance. The World Health Organization also warns that there is a definite risk that common infections will “no longer have a cure and would kill unabated.” It is indeed time to take heed and act responsibly and appropriately when it comes to antibiotic prescription.