THE BLOG

We Need a United Front to Win the War on Antibiotic Resistance

20/08/2015 17:44 BST | Updated 20/08/2016 10:59 BST

Diamonds, fossil fuels, antibiotics. All are rare, all are limited. But only antibiotics will help us fight or prevent infection caused by bacteria. Not all bacteria are bad for us but harmful infections are common. Bacteria are highly adaptive to survival and finding a way to limit the effectiveness of antibiotics, a loss which would be a major step backwards for the human race.

Compared to most global crises, antibiotic resistance has received little attention. This week, the topic finally found its rightful place at the top of the news agenda but this is just the beginning: it is going to take a lot to even slow this down. Antibiotic resistance affects the health of every single person - and it is going take every one of those people to help overcome it.

Use of antibiotics drives antibiotic resistance. We all depend on these medications but we need to get smarter and better in how we use them. The messages are clear, we are using too many antibiotics and there is too much variation in prescribing - with an estimated 10million unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions a year according to NICE's Clinical Director Mark Baker.

And why? Well, it's no good pointing fingers, it's a complicated issue involving medical science and the way we think and act.

Our society is changing - people are living longer and, our pace of life is increasing. The demands of daily life have always been present but it increasingly seems as if we are 'too busy' to be unwell and antibiotics risk being seen as a quick fix to shorten time off work or school.

Being unwell can also be distressing - especially for parents of a sick child who understandably want them to be better soon. So when we make the effort to head to the GP's we naturally want to come away feeling we've been helped - usually in the form of a prescription. However, antibiotics are not necessarily the answer.

The trouble is, many people with infection-like symptoms such as sore throats, runny noses or high temperatures can feel they've not been taken seriously if they don't leave with an antibiotic prescription. Many symptoms are caused by viruses which don't respond to antibiotics but for many, the wait-and-see method just doesn't cut it. They may be anxious about having a serious infection, have a lack of confidence in the health care practitioner they saw or just be impatient to feel better quickly.

Unfortunately, this attitude places a tremendous burden on doctors and nurses alike. Healthcare staff are under pressure to keep appointments to time, but time is essential with patients to explain why antibiotics are or aren't needed. Patients can and do badger healthcare staff and it's not unusual for patients to actively seek second opinions to find another who gives in to the demands for antibiotics.

Understanding why this happens is central to reducing unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions with research showing that the reality of antibiotic resistance and what we need to do to manage it simply hasn't been aptly communicated to the public.

The Wellcome Trust recently showed that most people thought it was their bodies that become resistant, rather than the bacteria. For them, if they didn't take antibiotics too often they'd be fine. This viewpoint is potentially catastrophic - the more people take these drugs the more the bacteria adapt to overcome them and the less effective they become.

We all - prescribers and the public - need to take responsibility for this problem, as neither can tackle it alone and it affects us all. As a nurse, I know the wealth of opportunity for health care staff, especially nurses, to share message about the dangers of antibiotic resistance and we must all take immediate action to harness this potential.

But we also need patients and their carers to listen to us and respect our advice. If we decide you don't need antibiotics, it does not mean we don't take you seriously - it means we care about your health - short term and long term. Bacteria are clever and they are evolving fast.

But if we work together we can in time overcome this.