Doctors have been ordered to stop giving antibiotics to patients with sore throats and to tell them to buy paracetamol instead.
Officials say antibiotics don’t work for the vast majority of sore throats, but GPs still dole them out in their millions. Experts believe this is contributing to the superbug crisis, with bacteria evolving to become resistant to the drugs.
Guidance by NHS watchdog NICE and Public Health England says GPs should be clear with their patients that antibiotics are unlikely to work.
Overuse of antibiotics is believed to be contributing towards the superbug crisis, with bacteria evolving to become resistant to the drugs
Sore throats are one of the most common complaints seen by GPs, and in most cases are triggered by a virus against which antibiotics are useless. Yet 60 per cent of patients who complain about a sore throat are given antibiotics, NICE said. The guidance says most patients will get better within a week without treatment, and doctors should tell their patients to buy painkillers such as paracetamol to deal with the pain.
Dr Tessa Lewis, a GP and chairman of the managing common infections guidance committee, said: ‘A sore throat can be very painful, making you feel tired and unwell for about a week. But in most cases antibiotics will not make much difference. Instead, we should drink plenty of fluids and rest. Paracetamol can help to relieve pain and control temperature.’
The guidance says some patients will benefit from antibiotics, but usually only if their complaint is caused by streptococcal bacteria, rather than a virus. This can cause tonsilitis and other problems.
But the report spells out how GPs can spot these problems, including whether someone has a fever or inflamed tonsils. A quarter of all antibiotics prescribed by GPs – 10million a year – are not actually needed, officials say.
Giving patients too many drugs, particularly for complaints where they are not needed, means bacteria are evolving to become resistant to the treatments.
Health experts have frequently warned that resistance to antimicrobial drugs could cause a bigger threat to mankind than cancer
Superbugs are already breeding at a rapid rate, with increasing numbers of germs evolving to become untreatable with what were previously effective drugs. Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, has warned of a ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’ if the problem continues to grow.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, of the Royal College of GPs, said: ‘We support the NICE recommendation today that paracetamol or ibuprofen would be the most appropriate first line treatment to manage the pain caused by a sore throat.’
NICE says there is little point in using medicated lozenges for a sore throat because they ‘only help to reduce pain by a small amount’.
Cough sweets – which contain no drugs – are unproven to work at all.
Strepsils, owned by UK health giant Reckitt Benckiser, is the most sold sore-throat medicine in the world.
It declined to comment but the Proprietary Association of Great Britain, which represents manufacturers of over-the-counter medicine, insisted lozenges were ‘an appropriately safe and effective way to provide relief’.