There is a global drive to reduce the number of antibiotics being prescribed in order to reduce the risk of antibiotic resistance; the more antibiotics we all take, the more resistant bacteria become. The problem is growing with more strains of once treatable bacteria becoming increasingly difficult to treat. Antibiotic resistance has been highlighted as one of the most important global health threats of the 21st century. So it is no surprise that Government scientists are urging us all to take fewer antibiotics.
In the UK GPs are being monitored and asked to reduce prescriptions for unnecessary antibiotics. However, during the winter months people often put pressure on their GPs for antibiotics in the belief they need them to recover from illnesses. However, in many cases coughs and colds are caused by viruses and not bacteria, so antibiotics are not needed. For this reason new testing methods to screen whether infections are bacterial or viral are being proposed.
It has been suggested that community pharmacists could carry out a simple finger prick tests to see if people are suffering from a bacterial or viral infection and then give antibiotics only to those that need them. Using advances in technology in this way can help to reduce antibiotic usage and at the same time alleviate an overburdened NHS.
Using wider health services is part of a national plan to modernise the health service and reduce demand and pressure on GPs and other health care providers. A pilot study called the Sore Throat Test and Treat – has treated patients in 35 Boots pharmacies, during a six-month period. In the study people with a sore throat could go to the pharmacist instead of the GP and have the simple test and then the pharmacist could prescribe antibiotics accordingly.
If every part of the country takes up the scheme, it will mean 800,000 fewer GP consultations, saving the NHS £34 million a year. Such systems will ensure far quicker treatment for common ailments and prevent over use of antibiotics in cases where viral infections are the cause.
The initiative is part of a programme, called the NHS Innovation Accelerator – which aims to ensure that new inventions and scientific breakthroughs are rolled out more quickly across the country. Simon Stevens, Chief Executive of the NHS, will announce that the initiative is one of eight medical inventions which will be gradually introduced across the health service over the next year. Currently around 1.2 million people visit their GP with such complaints.