By Daniel Martin
Last updated at 9:02 PM on 23rd July 2008
Doctors are to be told not to hand out antibiotics for coughs and colds under new guidelines. (Posed by models)
Doctors will be told not to hand out antibiotics for coughs, sore throats and colds under guidelines to be unveiled today.
GPs have been accused of wasting more than £100million on the drugs every year for patients with respiratory tract infections.
Rationing watchdog the National Institute for Clinical Excellence said today that the vast majority of cases would clear up on their own.
Adults should simply ‘take a rest’ while children should be offered ‘love and attention’.
And NICE warned that putting patients on antibiotics placed them at needless risk of side effects such as nausea, diarrhoea and vomiting.
Experts also believe that overuse of antibiotics could be a major factor behind the spread of superbugs such as MRSA because it prompts harmful bacteria to develop resistance, and could make it harder to treat serious conditions in the future.
In 2007, GPs wrote 38 prescriptions for antibiotics, costing the Health Service £175million.
NICE said 60 per cent of these were for patients with respiratory tract infections meaning around £105million was wasted.
Colds are caused by viruses, which means that antibiotics, which work only against bacteria, are useless.
Earlier this year, Britain’s chief medical officer Sir Liam Donaldson said that between 25 and 35 per cent of treatments were unnecessary and did not cure common infections.
Around a quarter of the population visits the GP every year because of a respiratory tract infection.
Professor Paul Little, who drew up the guidelines, said: ‘Management of respiratory tract infections in the past concentrated on advising prompt antibiotic treatment.
‘However, as rates of major complications are much less common in modern developed countries, so the evidence of symptomatic benefit should be strong to justify prescribing antibiotics so that we are not needlessly exposing patients to side effects.’
The NICE guidance said GPs should reassure patients that antibiotics are not needed immediately because they will make little difference to symptoms and may have side effects.
They should be told to take simple cough medicines and pain killers.
However, if symptoms persist or get worse, antibiotics may then be prescribed.
For some patients, such as children younger than two, the elderly and those with complications or pre-existing conditions, antibiotics should still be handed out immediately, the guidance says.
Dr Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of GPs, said many doctors were already following these ideas and were putting up posters in their surgeries warning patients they may not be prescribed antibiotics.
‘It is very difficult when doctors want to please patients but the big message is that patients should no longer expect to be given antibiotics in the majority of cases,’ he said.
‘Hopefully it will mean patients will learn to manage their care at home rather than always relying on doctors.’
- Health Service trusts are being forced to build polyclinics even when they tell ministers it could jeopardise patient care.
E-mails obtained under freedom of information reveal the Department of Health is overruling strong objections from senior experts.
The polyclinics will place family doctors alongside services such as minor surgery and physiotherapy.
Doctors have warned they could force local GP surgeries to close, and more than a million patients signed petitions against them.
The e-mails obtained by Pulse magazine reveal that Herefordshire primary care trust, for example, said polyclinics were ‘neither affordable nor value for money’.
But it has been forced to back down, despite ministers’ claims the changes would be ‘locally led’.
Tory health spokesman Mark Simmonds said: ‘Labour have claimed that they are not imposing polyclinics on local people, but these e-mails expose that lie for what it is.’