Public Health England will relaunch their ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign on 23rd October, with the aim of reducing patient expectations for antibiotics.

Antimicrobial resistance continues to pose a serious individual and global risk and yet, despite frequent reporting in the media about the threat of a ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’, research indicates that patients still expect antibiotics for some viruses and self-limiting illnesses; 38% who visit a doctor’s surgery, NHS walk-in centre or ‘GP out of hours’ service expect an antibiotic for a cough, flu or a throat, ear, sinus or chest infection.

In the last four years, England has seen a decline in antibiotic prescribing, and the UK government has made significant investments at home and abroad in research, development and surveillance. However, despite these positive trends, research shows that 20% of antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately with a large disparity between the number of prescriptions and what experts consider to be the ideal number of prescriptions. For example, over 80% of people were prescribed antibiotics to treat bronchitis in 2013-15, with the ideal rate being under 15%, figures published in 2018 found.

There is already a clear acknowledgement among pharmacists of the importance of tackling antimicrobial resistance. Recent research involving pharmacy professionals reveals that more than 75% agreed they have a key part to play in helping to control antibiotic use and 97% acknowledged the importance of pharmacists giving self-care advice to patients for common infections.

Keep Antibiotics Working

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign was launched in 2017 and has already started to change public perceptions about antibiotic resistance. Post campaign research found that the key message resonated with the audience, with 81% of the public acknowledging that taking antibiotics unnecessarily puts them and their family at risk. Positively, 78% stated that, following the campaign, they would be unlikely to ask for antibiotics even if they felt they needed them.

As part of last year’s campaign, Treat Your Infection non-prescription pads were distributed in GP practices, with 97% of patients saying they found the pads helpful. In 2018, Public Health England and NHS England have developed a bespoke version of the leaflets specifically for pharmacists so they can provide advice to people about how to manage respiratory tract infections.

Research show that pharmacists feel there is little time to give all the advice they want to provide to patients. The Treat Your Infection pad is a useful tool, providing a cue to have infection-related self-care conversations and helping facilitate quicker consultations. The pads are branded ‘Help Us Help You’, an evolution from the Stay Well This Winter brand.

Help Us Help You is an overarching brand which unifies a family of campaigns incorporating messages about flu, staying well in winter, NHS111, pharmacy and GP extended hours. It encourages people to take appropriate actions (be that getting the flu vaccination or accessing the appropriate service) to better enable the NHS to help them).

Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope, Lead Pharmacist for antimicrobial resistance at PHE, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a very real risk and pharmacists have a vital role to play in helping to tackle this issue by promoting self-care as an alternative to antibiotics when they are not needed. PHE’s ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign aims to support pharmacists and other healthcare professionals by helping to explain the risks of antibiotic resistance to the public. We want people to understand that if they are feeling under the weather, antibiotics may not always be effective to treat their condition, and if they are told antibiotics are not needed they can speak to their pharmacist about the most effective way to manage their symptoms.

“The Treat Your Infection non-prescription pad was a hugely successful tool for GPs last year and I am excited that PHE and NHS England are able to provide pharmacy teams with them this year. The leaflets when used by GPs was found to, help change the dialogue between patients and prescribers and ensuring patients feel their illness is being taken seriously, even without the prescription of an antibiotic. I hope pharmacists will find them useful and get behind the campaign to help us spread this important message.”

Sandra Gidley, Chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society England, said: “Pharmacists have an important role to play in efforts to reduce expectations for antibiotics by encouraging patients to manage their symptoms and pain with over the counter remedies for minor ailments when antibiotics are not prescribed.

“The Treat Your Infection non-prescription pad highlights the important role of self-care in a format that is easy for patients to understand and I’m very optimistic about their roll out in pharmacies this year. I think pharmacists will find them a very valuable tool for talking to patients about the best ways to treat symptoms of illness such as coughs, colds and sore throats.”

New resources are available this year including the Treat Your Infection ‘Help Us Help You’ pharmacy non-prescription pad to order or downloaded along with a range of other materials including ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ posters and leaflets on the PHE Campaign Resource Centre to use in pharmacies: https://campaignresources.phe.gov.uk/resources/