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Last Updated: Monday, 4 February 2008, 00:54 GMT
GPs urged to cut back antibiotics
The NHS spent 175m on antibiotics last year
Too many patients are still being prescribed antibiotics unnecessarily by their GP, the government has warned.

The Department of Health is urging GPs to make it clear to patients that antibiotics will not get rid of minor illnesses, such as the common cold.

Bacteria resistance to antibiotics is still rising, a decade after a national campaign first highlighted that as a side-effect of antibiotic prescribing.

GPs said awareness among patients had got better but there was more to do.

The government said action was necessary to protect the efficacy of the drugs that people have.

Antibiotics treat bacterial infections but all colds and most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses so cannot be cured with antibiotics
Sir Liam Donaldson

It added that many people did not realise the reason that infections such as MRSA are hard to get rid of is because the bacteria are resistant to the main class of antibiotics used to treat them.

Chief medical officer for England, Liam Donaldson said: "Antibiotic resistance is becoming more common and in recent years fewer new antibiotics have been discovered.

"Antibiotics treat bacterial infections but all colds and most coughs and sore throats are caused by viruses so cannot be cured with antibiotics.

"The more we take antibiotics when they are not necessary, the more bacteria will become resistant to them.

"Patients can take other remedies to help relieve the symptoms of a cough or cold. Their pharmacist is well placed to give them advice."

It is also vital that when a patient is prescribed antibiotics they finish the course and do not stop taking them as soon as they feel better, he said.

Antibiotic campaign

The NHS spent around 175m on all antibiotics from October 2006 to September 2007. There were around 38 million prescriptions dispensed in the community in that period.

A study published last year in the British Medical Journal found that GPs were still prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily for coughs and colds.

The researchers found no evidence that prescribing them prevents serious complications, except for chest infections.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said it had been working for many years to raise awareness among doctors of antibiotic resistance.

"GPs try extremely hard not to prescribe when it is not necessary," he said.

"But I don't think the public fully understand that requesting prescriptions when they are not going to be effective is not appropriate."

However, he said fewer patients were consulting for colds but still expected antibiotics for minor illnesses, such as ear infections and sore throats.

Antibiotic resistance countered
09 Jul 07 |  Health
Antibiotic runny nose 'warning'
20 Jul 06 |  Health

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