New guidelines for GPs aim to battle antibiotic resistance

A new set of guidelines will educate GPs on how to handle patients asking for medication to treat the common cold

Every year, many patients in the UK turn to their doctor for assistance when they have a cold; NICE and Public Health England have now released guidelines on how GPs can handle this influx when the colder months draw close.

The guidelines state that GPs should recommend honey and simple, over-the-country medicines for colds, as they alleviate the symptoms. Colds do go away on their own after two or three weeks.

As for antibiotics, GPs should avoid prescribing them – not only because antibiotic resistance is a real problem, but because they rarely help with illnesses like a cold.

There is now (albeit limited) evidence that honey improves cough symptoms, as well as any medicines containing pelargonium, guaifenesin or dextromethorphan.

GPs are to advise patients to wait out the symptoms and rest, and to educate them on the fact that doctors can rarely help. Despite it being reasonably common knowledge that the common cold is a type of virus – and, therefore, untreatable using antibiotics – research has found that 48% of GPs in the UK have prescribed them for coughs or bronchitis.

According to Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director at PHE, said:

“Antibiotic resistance is a huge problem, and we need to take action now to reduce antibiotic use…

“These new guidelines will support GPs to reduce antibiotic prescriptions and we encourage patients to take their GP’s advice about self-care.”

A cough can, of course, be an indication of a more severe issue, but there are still steps patients can take that won’t involve taking up GPs’ valuable time.

Dr Tessa Lewis, GP and chair of the antimicrobial prescribing guideline group, said:

“People can check their symptoms on NHS Choices or NHS Direct Wales or ask their pharmacist for advice.

“If the cough is getting worse rather than better, or the person feels very unwell or breathless, then they would need to contact their GP.”

Public Health England and NHS are putting together a comprehensive report regarding antibiotic prescriptions, in order to limit them and slow down the public’s resistance.

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