The Royal College of General Practitioners has launched new guidance aimed at helping doctors when prescribing antibiotics.

Currently there is concern that antibiotics are being over-prescribed to patients who do not always need them, which can prove costly to the NHS and increase the chances of bacteria becoming resistant to antibiotic medicine, rendering them ineffective.

The RCGP says its new guidance “provides a simple, effective, and cost-effective approach” to the treatment of common infections, and to minimise the emergence of bacterial resistance in the community.

It is being launched as part of a TARGET toolkit (Treat Antibiotics Responsibly, Guidance and Education Tool), which is available on the RCGP website at www.RCGP.org.uk\TARGETantibiotics\, and has been produced in partnership with the Health Protection Agency and the Antimicrobial Stewardship in Primary Care Group.

Its launch coincides with European Antibiotic Awareness Day taking place on Sunday 18 November.

The work is part of the RCGP’s Antimicrobial Stewardship clinical priority programme and the partnership working has helped to ensure a variety of health professionals have contributed to  the resource including, microbiologists, clinicians, GPs, pharmacists, guidance developers and other stakeholders.

Antibiotic awareness

Dr Michael Moore, RCGP clinical champion for Antimicrobial Stewardship, said: “The toolkit is aimed at working GPs to give them the means to assess their current practice and to focus on ways to reduce antibiotic prescribing in situations where the evidence shows they are of little or no benefit. We will be adding to the toolkit over time as more evidence comes available.

“I don’t see antimicrobial stewardship as a one-off activity but as something to be worked on over time. We hope that practices will pick up on antibiotic awareness and integrate this into their service development programme over the coming years perhaps focussing on a different clinical condition each year.”

As well as antibiotics management guidance, the TARGET toolkit also comprises:

•    Clinical resources - including posters and links to useful web pages

•    Patient resources - including leaflets and a self-management form

•    Parent resources – a set of information leaflets for parents including the ‘When should   I worry’ booklet

•    Audit report template for throat infection

Dr Cliodna McNulty, the HPA’s head of primary care, said: “Doctors are faced daily with patients who expect antibiotics for uncomplicated infections that will usually get better on their own. Patients consult because their symptoms are prolonged painful or they are worried they are severe. The resources in the TARGET antibiotics toolkit include an antibiotic information leaflet to share with patients during the consultation.

“This will help patient understanding about the usual length of coughs colds and sore throats and flu and give them advice about self-care and when they need to return to the surgery if they’re symptoms worsen.