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Tuesday, 11 August, 1998, 13:05 GMT 14:05 UK
Doctors accused of 'dishing out' antibiotics
Antibiotics only work against bacterial infections
Family doctors are giving antibiotics to patients when they know the drugs will have no benefit, according to Health Which? magazine.

The publication says over 15% of the patients it surveyed were wrongly prescribed antibiotics for infections such as flu, coughs and sore throats - these are nearly always caused by viruses which are not affected by antibiotics.

The unnecessary overprescribing of anitbiotics is undesirable because it encourages the emergence of drug-resistant strains of bacteria - so-called "superbugs" like MRSA which defy conventional treatment.


In April, a House of Lords inquiry into the issue suggested that patients were at least partly to blame for the over-use of drugs and concluded that patients' expectations were a major factor affecting the prescribing behaviour of GPs.

But Sally Williams, who conducted the investigation for Health Which?, said it was unfair to blame the problem on consumers.

"We found that doctors were not explaining that antibiotics had no effect on viruses, and were simply dishing out tablets to save time," she said.

The survey found many of those surveyed were confused by what antibiotics could and could not do. Eighty per cent of respondents said they knew that nothing could cure colds or flu, but in response to another question, 45% thought antibiotics did kill viruses.

Patient pressure

Dr George Rae, chairman of the BMA's GP prescribing sub-committee, accepted that there was some degree of overprescribing by doctors.

"But in no way can the medical profession be accused of prescribing antibiotics in a cavalier fashion," he said.

"Some good may come out of this report if it helps to ease the undoubted pressure and sometimes pressure from patients for the prescribing of antibiotics."

"In some cases this is for conditions, such as sore throats and middle ear infection, which in the majority of cases are viral in origin."

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23 Jun 98 | Health
Fears over antibiotic policy
05 Aug 98 | Sci/Tech
Bugs may defy popular antibiotics
13 May 98 | Sci/Tech
New antibiotics to beat the bugs
05 Aug 98 | UK
Fears over 'superbugs'
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