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Why are doctors still prescribing antibiotics for sore throats? - Safe prescription of antibiotics
There have been many articles and news reports regarding the prescription of antibiotics for sore throats and common colds. If you ask most GPs whether a sore throat needs antibiotics, they will tell you that it does not. Not only are most caused by viral infections such as a cold or flu, even if it is a bacterial infection, it almost always gets better on its own within a week.
However, something is clearly going wrong in consulting rooms across the UK. Research studies on prescribing consistently show that doctors are writing out prescriptions for antibiotics for patients with sore throats. In a 2014 study, published by the BMJ, based on 568 UK general practices, it was found that 60 per cent of patients with sore throats received antibiotic prescriptions.
The highest prescribing 10 per cent of practices issued them 78 per cent of the time. In some cases, some of those prescriptions will be necessary, for example, severe cases of tonsillitis, or sore throats in people with already weakened immune systems, cannot be allowed to fester.
Others may be back up prescriptions, given to patients with strict instructions only to get the drugs from the chemist if their symptoms do not improve within a few days. Many of those will not be picked up, and therefore make no contribution to antibiotic resistance. Studies often struggle to differentiate these from immediate prescriptions.
However, there is evidence that some doctors feel bullied by patients who want antibiotics and will not take no for an answer. Others feel as if they have to give patients some form of treatment, and offer antibiotics if the alternative would be to do nothing.
The government wants to halve inappropriate prescriptions of antibiotics by 2020 — and official figures show a 13 per cent reduction in GP antibiotic prescriptions between 2012 and 2016. While the new Nice guidelines are not binding on doctors, they are likely to help reduce prescriptions for sore throat — if only by giving doctors something firm to point at when faced with an irate patient.
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