GPs trying to please patients by handing out antibiotics

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A group of MPs today issued a warning that GPs are handing out antibiotics needlessly to ‘placate’ patients.

A report issued by the Commons Science and Technology Committee said that this practice to achieve a placebo effect is what is boosting the growth in antibiotic resistance.

Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, said that the problem stemmed from patients pressing their GPs for antibiotics. She also stated that if she were to undergo a hip replacement in 20 years’ time, she would die from a routine infection.

David Cameron is currently being urged by the committee to act with urgency before it becomes too late to contain a range of infections that cannot be treated.

The report stated that antibiotics are not effective against viruses and other diseases which are not caused by bacteria and the needless prescription of antibiotics is what has caused the acceleration of resistance to antibiotics.

The committee issued a warning that GPs use these drugs to fool patients into thinking that they are obtaining effective treatments, even though the drugs may not impact medically at all.

The Chairman of the committee, Andrew Miller, stated that antibiotic resistance cannot be prevented entirely, but the problem is exacerbated by inappropriate usage.

It is suspected that antibiotics are routinely used on healthy animals in farming. The report stated that GPs were providing up to nine out of ten patients with antibiotics. These drugs are routinely offered to treat viral infections, such as flu and colds, and while patients may feel happier about the prescription, it will do very little to fight their illness.

According to NHS figures, about 35 million antibiotic prescriptions are dispensed annually by GPs in England. This figure has increased by 30% since 2000. Meanwhile, around 5000 people die annually from antibiotic-resistant infections.

The NHS has managed to lower the rates of two serious superbugs, C.Difficile and MRSA, by launching a massive awareness campaign and improving hygiene in hospitals. However, new threats have emerged as replacements, such as E.coli, which has increased by 30% for the period between 2005 and 2009.

Dame Sally has asked the Government to place antibiotic resistance on the national risk register and to rank it alongside a terrorist attack. She stated that without adequate action, the country may return to a ‘19th-century environment’ where routine operations will become deadly.

The committee has stated that more public awareness is required to lift pressure on GPs to hand out these drugs.

Image Credit: Angela Doss

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