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Antibiotic resistance is a huge international health issue that has featured heavily in the media in recent years. It doesn't seem like a week goes by without a story being published somewhere about the overuse of antibiotics and the rise of resistant 'super-bugs', and all for good reason. It was only last year that David Cameron raised the subject with other world leaders at the G7 summit, and warned of the world being cast back into the medical 'dark ages' if the issue was left unchecked.
This morning the BBC reported a fresh battle-cry from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence's (NICE) Professor Mark Baker, who said that as many as 10 million prescriptions per year in England were carelessly and inappropriately prescribed. Professor Baker wants to see regulators punish overprescribing doctors who are failing to change their ways, even in light of the growing antibiotic resistance.
The scientific and medical communities are in consensus that the threat of antibiotic resistance threatens to undo all of the good work that modern medicine has achieved, and could see the return of long-forgotten infections becoming deadly again. But in spite of this consensus, antibiotic prescriptions continue to rise year on year. Even in cases of upper respiratory tract infections where it is clear antibiotics will not help, GP's are still prescribing antibiotics. Some cite this to overwhelming pressure from patients who still believe that antibiotics will help with almost any ailment. Professor Baker said that 97% of patients who requested antibiotic medicines were given to them by their GP. He continued to say that it is these professionals who should be punished for "hazardous practice".
New NICE guidelines have been published on antibiotic prescribing for the NHS in England, and these guidelines acknowledge the patient pressure factor. The guidelines state that in cases where antibiotics are inappropriate, doctors should explain this to patients and the reasoning why this is the case, and then refuse to prescribe them. NICE say that these guidelines should help doctors cut the 42 million antibiotic prescriptions a year by 25%.
Dr Tim Ballard, from the Royal College of GPs, said the focus needed to be shifted to educating the public on the ever-growing risk of antibiotic resistance and when antibiotic prescriptions are and are not appropriate. Dr Ballard said, "Any suggestion that hard-pressed GPs - who are already trying to do their jobs in increasingly difficult circumstances - will be reported to the regulator is counter-productive and unhelpful."
NICE are planning to publish guidelines on educating the general public in 2016.
Read more about antibiotic resistance:
Can probiotics prevent antibiotic resistance?