This new instruction is perhaps one of the most profound u-turns the medical profession has ever seen. For years the importance of finishing a full course of antibiotics has been stressed in doctor’s surgeries and chemists everywhere.
Now, experts are calling for doctors to tell their patients not to finish the full course of medication. The news is in response to the growing problem of antimicrobial resistance.
Institutions including Public Health England and the University of Oxford back the new advice and encourage it. Experts state that overuse of drugs should be avoided at all and patients should stop taking the tablets when they feel better.
Antibiotics work by killing bacteria or preventing them from reproducing and spreading. They do not work on all infections and are unsuitable for the treatment of viral infections like the flu.
Current NHS advice states that it is “essential to finish taking prescribed course of antibiotics, even if you feel better”. They do stipulate that if a healthcare professional tells you otherwise, you can stop taking the medication, but generally advice is overwhelmingly in favour of finishing it until the end.
The NHS warn that “If you stop taking an antibiotic part way through a course, the bacteria can become resistant to the antibiotic.”
Yet in a new article posted in the British Medical Journal, 10 experts are calling for this advice to be dropped. The lead author of the article Martin Llewelyn said: “With little evidence that failing to complete a prescribed antibiotic course contributes to antibiotic resistance, it’s time for policy makers, educators, and doctors to drop this message.”
He added, “Historically, antibiotic courses were driven by fear of under treatment, with less concern about overuse. The idea that stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance is not supported by evidence, while taking antibiotics for longer than necessary increases the risk of resistance.”
Speaking to the Telegraph chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies said the public should not change their actions until further research is conducted.
She says, “The Department of Health will continue to review the evidence on prescribing and drug resistant infections, as we aim to continue the great progress we have made at home and abroad on this issue.”
Other experts that the Telegraph reached out to suggested that guidelines for anti-biotic usage were in desperate need of an update. Professor Mark Woolhouse from the University of Edinburgh says, “It is very clear that prescribing practices do need to change; there is every indication that current volumes of antibiotic usage are too high to be sustainable. We need to start to use antibiotics more wisely before it’s too late.”