Making it easier to access antibiotics is neither good for patients nor the way to reduce GP pressures, the BMA has warned.
Patients will be able to obtain antibiotics from pharmacies without seeing a doctor under new plans aimed at reducing the need for GP appointments, according to The Times.
The paper also reported that health secretary Dr Thérèse Coffey had said she had previously shared her own antibiotics with friends and family.
BMA GP Committee deputy chair Dr Richard Van Mellaerts highlighted the dangers of overusing antibiotics, which risks making them less effective and can make some infections more difficult to treat, subsequently increasing pressure on the health service.
‘Sharing prescribed medications, particularly antibiotics, is not only potentially dangerous, but also against the law, and we would ask our health secretary to instead support us in encouraging good and safe prescribing practices,’ he said.
Just four months ago, the Government set out a new commitment to mitigate ‘just in case’ antibiotic prescribing in general practice as part of its strategy to tackle antimicrobial resistance.
Dr Van Mellaerts also said that making it easier for others to prescribe antibiotics was not the way to reduce the need for GP appointments or wider pressures in general practice.
Instead, he urged for more funding and resources for practices, community-based services like mental health clinics, and towards retaining and recruiting more GPs.
‘Government must focus on truly beneficial, long-term solutions, not just short-sighted quick fixes that ultimately put patient safety in jeopardy,’ he said.
A spokesperson for Dr Coffey said: ‘The secretary of state has explored a range of policy options to relieve pressure on GPs, including whether it is possible to allow greater prescribing by pharmacists – as happens in many places, including Scotland.
‘These wide-ranging discussions included reflections on the importance of anti-microbial resistance and societal behaviours around antibiotics.’
They added: ‘The outcomes of these discussions were contained in the secretary of state’s ABCD Plan for Patients, which set out policies to expand the range of services available from community pharmacies.’
NHS England will start piloting services with a prescribing element in at least one ‘pathfinder’ site per ICB, utilising existing community pharmacy prescribers from early 2023, the spokesperson said.
They stressed that pharmacists are already allowed to prescribe medicines within their clinical competence if they have a prescribing qualification, with an estimated 1,000 out of circa 27,000 community pharmacists already holding this.
Pharmacist prescribing would also be part of specific clinical services or patient pathways such as hypertension, high cholesterol, contraception or minor illnesses, they added.
And they said that pharmacists prescribing antibiotics for UTIs alone could save 400,000 GP appts a year and £8.4m, based on data from Scotland.
Public health officials warned earlier this year of a rise in extremely antibiotic-resistant Shigella sonnei infections, while a separate study showed that GPs practicing under pressure were more likely to prescribe broad-spectrum antibiotics.
The Primary Care Respiratory Society published a pragmatic guide in May to support point of care C-reactive protein testing as part of moves to cut antibiotic prescribing.