How community pharmacy is playing a small part in tackling antibiotic resistance

Steve Howard, Quality & Clinical Standards Director and Superintendent Pharmacist at McKesson UK, talks about sore throat services delivered in community pharmacies.

Everyone is aware of the increasing pressure on our GPs, the growing wait for appointments shows we are a nation dependent on our local doctors’ surgeries. As we head into winter, many people will experience symptoms of a common cold or flu and will look to their GP to supply them with antibiotics.

Antibiotics are used to prevent and treat bacterial infections, and antibiotic consumption is fuelling increased resistance in bacteria. World Antibiotic Awareness Week last week was a timely reminder that we all need to be aware of the consequences of antibiotic resistance.

Before the mass production of antibiotics, common infections like pneumonia and diarrhoea were the number one cause of death in the developed world. When antibiotics were first widely used last century, they were seen as a major medical breakthrough, but in recent decades this important group of medicines has been incorrectly used and over-prescribed.

Most people are unaware that antibiotics are ineffective for viral infections such as cold or flu so patients are putting pressure on doctors to prescribe them antibiotics, with the highest number of inappropriate prescriptions given to people with a sore throat or cough.

Community pharmacies started offering sore throat services just a few years ago but it has expanded and now includes many LloydsPharmacy stores. The on-the-spot throat swab service is designed to detect Streptococcus group A (‘Strep A’) and can relieve pressure on the NHS, free-up GP appointments as well as help tackle antibiotic resistance.  The service only takes a few minutes so people with a sore throat can be screened for bacterial infection by completing a simple questionnaire, undergoing an examination and having a mouth swab taken, the process has up to 98% accuracy. Pharmacists can supply antibiotics to the patient on the spot, or recommend over the counter medicine for those with a viral infection.

Cold and flu season is upon us and people with coughs and colds will be queuing to visit their GP. Wouldn’t it be better for them to visit their local pharmacy instead of having to wait for an appointment? Patients would have an alternative and surgeries would be freed up to deal with people with the most urgent need.  Pharmacy teams can also provide many over the counter treatments for cold and flu, regardless of the existence of bacterial infection.

Of course, we’re not going to solve antibiotic resistance overnight. But this is a step in the right direction.