The Royal Pharmaceutical Society has warned that elderly people in nursing homes are taking twice as many antibiotics as those living in their own homes and exacerbating the problem of antimicrobial resistance.

Calling for pharmacists to train residential care staff across England to reduce their use of dipstick testing – a method used to determine if antibiotics are needed which sees a strip dipped into a resident’s urine to detect bacteria which could cause an infection – the RPS said overuse of antibiotics was harming residents’ health.

A pilot scheme in Bath where pharmacists trained nursing home staff to reduce their reliance on dipstick testing when diagnosing a urinary tract infection reduced inappropriate antibiotic prescribing in more than 50% of residents and cut unplanned hospital admissions. The RPS said it wanted to see the project rolled out across the country.

RPS England Pharmacy Board chair Sandra Gidley said: “Far too many nursing home residents are getting antibiotics they don’t need. We must talk to residents about their symptoms rather than give them antibiotics based on a test result alone.

“Inappropriate use of antibiotics is fuelling the rise of antibiotic resistance, when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics used to treat them. The rate at which resistant bacteria develop can be slowed by reducing the number of unnecessary antibiotics used, ultimately helping protect frail elderly residents from hard-to-treat super-bugs.

“We need to prevent unnecessary harm to our frail elderly population. Antibiotics can cause distressing side-effects in older people such as nausea, diarrhoea, vomiting and skin rashes, as well as affect other medicines they may be taking.

“If pharmacists had responsibility for how all medicines are used in nursing homes they could improve the care of residents, reduce the use of antibiotics and help prevent antibiotic resistance.”