NHS Western Isles recently supported European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD), to encourage the responsible use of antibiotics by healthcare staff and the public to preserve their effectiveness for future generations.

Held annually on 18th November, EAAD raises awareness of the importance of antibiotics for treating bacterial infections.  However, the more antibiotics are used, the greater the chance bacteria will become resistant to them and they can no longer be used to treat infections.

Antibiotics treat infections by killing bacteria but with bacteria fighting back, this means the antibiotics are becoming less effective. In fact, there are some bacteria which are now totally resistant to all antibiotics. In fact it has been 30 years since a new class of antibiotics was last introduced, despite the fact that growing numbers of infections are resistant to antibiotics.

Without effective antibiotics many routine treatments will become increasingly dangerous.  Setting broken bones, basic operations, even chemotherapy and animal health all rely on access to antibiotics that work.

There are a number of reasons why antibiotics lose their effectiveness but two of the key ones are that we take medicines we don’t need and by missing doses/not completing the treatment course. 

Many individuals still wrongly believe that antibiotics should be taken for infections caused by viruses, such as most colds, coughs, flu or sore throats.  For those with health conditions that could put them at risk of complications such as diabetes, chronic lung and kidney disease, they are advised to seek medical advice if their symptoms are not resolving. Doctors will prescribe antibiotic treatment only when it is necessary.

Angus McKellar, NHS Western Isles Medical Director and Antimicrobial Management Team Chair, said: “NHS Western Isles GPs have worked hard over the years to reduce unnecessary prescriptions for antibiotics. They have noticed increased awareness amongst members of the public regarding the need to limit antibiotic use to infections for which they are indicated. Patients are increasingly understanding on the message that antibiotics should not be prescribed for viral infections. It is important to continue this good work, ensuring that antibiotics remain effective for when they are really needed.”

The Antibiotic Guardian, which was developed in 2014 by Public Health England, invites the general public, students and educators, farmers, the veterinary and medical communities and professional organisations, to become Antibiotic Guardians and make one simple pledge about how to make better use of antibiotics and help save these vital medicines from becoming obsolete.

Dr. McKellar added: “In order to slow resistance we need to cut down the unnecessary use of antibiotics. We hope that members of the public, as well as NHSWI staff, will become ‘antibiotic guardians’ and take the ‘antibiotic pledge’, to make better use of antibiotics and help save these vital medicines from becoming obsolete.”

To further raise awareness in the community as part of EAAD, Evelyn Yoong, NHS Western Isles Antimicrobial Pharmacist, and Janice Mackay, NHSWI Interim Manager/Advanced Practitioner of Infection Prevention and Control, organised displays in Stornoway at Tesco and the Co-op offering leaflets and information on antibiotic resistance and use.   Further awareness was also carried out during visits to nursing homes around Stornoway.

NHS Western Isles advice:

Accept your doctor’s advice when antibiotics are not needed.

When antibiotics are issued, follow dosage instructions and complete the treatment course.

Do not share your antibiotics with anyone else.

Do not keep antibiotics for use on another occasion.

Do not purchase antibiotics abroad.