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Why we must all become antibiotic guardians

Posted by: and , Posted on: - Categories: Antimicrobial resistance, Health Protection

Today PHE launches Antibiotic Guardian, a pledge campaign which forms a key part of the UK’s support for European Antibiotic Awareness Day and the wider fight against antibiotic resistance.

This campaign matters because we have to stop the overuse and misuse of antibiotics which is leading to many bacteria becoming resistant to these essential medicines. We need people to know that our antibiotics could soon be useless unless we all work together to preserve them.

Antibiotics have dramatically reduced the number of deaths from infections and infectious diseases since they were introduced 70 years ago.

They are now a vital tool for modern medicine and not just for the treatment of infections such as pneumonia, meningitis and tuberculosis from which many people died prior to their discovery. We also need them to avoid infections during today’s cancer treatments, Caesarean sections and much surgery.

Our antibiotic resistance problem is compounded by the fact that the discovery of new antibiotics is at an all-time low, even though we’ve always had an understanding of the problems we could face if we run out of effective antibiotics.

Go back to 1945 and Sir Alexander Fleming summed it up; it’s easy to make bacteria resistant to antibiotics just by exposing them to a level of antibiotic that is insufficient to kill them.  His Nobel laureate lecture warning remains just as potent today.

In Europe alone 25,000 people already die each year because of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Apart from this tragic human cost, the healthcare expenses and productivity losses also amount to over €1.5b. These numbers could even be an underestimate.

The urgency, scale of the problem and importance of reducing the threat from antimicrobial resistance is highlighted in the Chief Medical Officer’s annual report and the UK 5-Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy which sets out priorities and objectives.Seven key areas of action are highlighted in the strategy and Public Health England is leading on four of them:

  1. Improving infection prevention/control practices in human and animal health
  2. Optimising prescribing practice
  3. Improved education, training and public engagement
  4. Better access to and use of surveillance

Much work has already been carried out within PHE, the Department of Health and other key organisations and information on progress is available via the Department of Health website.

And if we could solve this problem alone we would, but we can’t. Everyone in the UK has a responsibility. We cannot eradicate antibiotic resistance but together we can take some key steps to limit the risks.

Take better prescribing for instance; recent research has found that the likelihood of GPs prescribing antibiotics for coughs and colds increased by 40% between 1999 and 2011. This is in spite of Government recommendations to reduce prescribing for illnesses like these, which are largely caused by viruses. We must keep promoting the use of the Target Antibiotics Toolkit amongst family doctors.

At the same time, the public also have a key role in reducing their demand for antibiotics. A recent study found that nearly all GPs feel pressurised by patients asking for antibiotics for self-limiting infections such as colds, flu, coughs and sore throats even when not needed at all.

Another survey found that GPs spend five hours a week seeing patients that could have instead gone to a pharmacist and asked about how best to treat their symptoms with over the counter medication. This highlights the important role that community pharmacists have in helping patients to manage these self-limiting infections and in turn antibiotic resistance. In fact, a new health campaign called Treat Yourself Better with Pharmacist Advice launched last week with this goal in mind, aiming to ease pressure on NHS services and reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions.

So whether you’re a health professional or member of the public, you can help by making your Antibiotic Guardian pledge.

By 30th November we want at least 10,000 healthcare professionals and members of the public to commit to at least one pledge for prudent use of antibiotics.

By collecting pledges we are hoping to go beyond simply raising awareness and support people to take concrete personal and collective action. This campaign is for everyone so our messages are equally relevant for our own staff, the public health community, the wider health sector, opinion formers, politicians and the public. You can help by:

  • Becoming an antibiotic guardian and encouraging others to do the same
  • Promoting antibiotic awareness in general through offering advice, providing staff training, sharing resources like this video on your social media profiles or simply talking to your friends and family.
  • If you work with health professionals, patients or the public, promote EAAD or Antibiotic Guardian around your organisation; let us know what you did, as this helps with our evaluation of these campaigns.

Will you be an antibiotic guardian?

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1 comment

  1. Comment by Bren posted on

    Thanks for a great blog and the opportu ity for a wider audience than professionals need to be considered. I think this is a great opportunity to better include the public too.

    It will be a challenge but an opportunity to work much closer with the public to rise to the challenge.

    best wishes,