The government has stepped up its efforts to prevent the unnecessary use of antibiotics with a national campaign designed to remind doctors of the growing problem of resistance to them.

The first national public education campaign to discourage the over-use of antibiotics was launched nearly 10 years ago, but resistance is snowballing and immediate action is essential to retain the efficacy of these treatments, particularly as the number of new drugs hitting the market has slowed in the last few years, according to the Department of Health.

Last year, researchers at the University of Sunderland found that 74% of surgical patients at Sunderland Royal Hospital received more antibiotic than the recommended dose, while the rate of over-prescribing had increased 20% since a previous study in 2006.

But aside from incorrect prescriptions for antibiotics, which are too often dished out for conditions such as the common cold that is caused by a virus and not bacteria, the growing rate of resistance is also down to patients not taking their drugs properly, such as too infrequently or not finishing the course at all.

Targeting the public and prescribers
The government’s new campaign aims to educate both the public and healthcare professionals to the growing problem of resistance, and involves the placing of adverts in national newspapers and magazines as well as the provision of posters and leaflets in GPs surgeries and pharmacies to help raise awareness of the dangers.

"Antibiotic resistance is becoming more common and in recent years fewer new antibiotics have been discovered…We must all play a part in conserving antibiotics as a valuable clinical resource,” stressed Chief Medical Officer Sir Liam Donaldson.