Not patients’ fault if antibiotics have lost power

Doctors have been dishing them out far too much, and now we're paying for it

Share

A friend of mine, frustrated at being forever single, used to joke about how she would have courses of antibiotics that lasted longer than her relationships.

Putting aside what this says about being a thirtysomething woman in London, it shows how commonplace it has become for a quick seven-day prescription from our GP to cure everything from a sore throat to a chest infection.

We are awash with antibiotics. GPs have been over-prescribing them, reducing our immunity to deadly bacteria, which have become increasingly resistant to drugs.

This problem is so serious that last month, Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, likened the threat from antibiotic-resistant infection to climate change and terrorism. Now the Prime Minister has launched a review into why no new antibiotics have been developed in the past 25 years.

This is all very frightening to patients, particularly those whose lives have been saved by antibiotics. When David Cameron talks about medicine returning to the “dark ages” if nothing is done about increasing resistance, he means women dying from what are normally routine, treatable infections after childbirth, or people being killed as a result of a single scratch. Antibiotics are the treatments we take for granted, and that is the core of the problem.

So who is to blame for this ticking time bomb, as Dame Sally called it? When the Prime Minister’s review was announced yesterday, there was a rush to point the finger at patients. A woman representing the Royal College of GPs was on the radio suggesting that patients are in part to blame because they expect a course of antibiotics from their doctor. Theodore Dalrymple, writing in The Times yesterday, said GPs had over-prescribed for fear of litigation from patients who become seriously ill.

 

There are two issues here, it seems: one is that patients can under-dose themselves by failing to finish the course, which allows bacteria to build up more resistance. For that, we patients must shoulder some of the blame. Because antibiotics can make us better within a day or two, it is easy to stop taking the tablets for the full course.

Yet this impending disaster for humans cannot just be laid at the door of patients. To suggest that we “expect” to be treated with antibiotics is just another buck-passing exercise that the medical profession is so fond of.

Just as GPs accuse patients of putting pressure on primary care when they are the ones who refuse to see us in evenings and at weekends, so too are they trying to blame us for the antibiotic crisis that has been, largely, in their control.

It is GPs, not patients, who have been dishing out antibiotics at the first sound of  a cough or sight of a white spot on the tonsils. In the past few years there has been more awareness, on the part of both patients and doctors, of the resistance problem. But antibiotics have continued to be handed out like sweets.

Is it any wonder when doctors seem to want to get rid of us as soon as possible from their consulting rooms? Appointments are supposed to be in 15-minute slots, but you are lucky if you get as much as five minutes. The problem of over-prescription is not about fear of litigation but merely part of a wider culture of patients being treated more like items on a supermarket checkout belt than as sick people needing treatment. And this culture, of course, is down to the dwindling amount of money and time there is to go around in the NHS.

There is also, as ever, a serious case to answer from Big Pharma. Cameron’s review, to be chaired by the economist Jim O’Neill, is about market failure, and why scientists and drug companies have not developed new antibiotics since the late 1980s. To suggest patients are at the heart of this crisis is simply a joke.

Where better to give birth than Primark?

As many heavily pregnant women will know, if you go into labour while shopping at John Lewis the company gives you free vouchers to spend on your new baby. At least this was the case in 2010, when, several days overdue, I would hobble around their maternity department hoping for my waters to break.

It never happened (in the end I went into labour in our local pub, a pretty useless place for waters to break if ever there was one). But I thought of this when I read about the woman who gave birth on a busy shopping street outside Primark in Birmingham this week.

Paramedics and passers-by helped her give birth to a girl as she was shielded by blankets. The first thing I thought was, I wonder if she had been hoping for some Primark freebies? And the second thing I thought was, how unlucky to be just outside the shop. I hope Primark does the decent thing and sends her some vouchers for the free publicity.

READ MORE:
Jeremy Meeks is a monster, not a heartthrob
The Government must make our roads safer for children
The new DKNY Ramadam collection is beautiful

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Read Next
The Lada became a symbol of Russia’s failure to keep up with Western economies  

Our sanctions will not cripple Russia. It is doing a lot of the dirty work itself

Hamish McRae
The Israeli ambassador to the US, Ron Dermer, has been dubbed ‘Bibi’s brain’  

Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire

Patrick Cockburn
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz