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Public Health England (PHE) will launch its latest public awareness campaign later this month to get people to turn to community pharmacies for advice before taking antibiotics.

Antibiotic resistance remains a serious problem despite a reduction in antibiotic prescribing in the last four years, the first decline in 16 years. PHE pointed to research that revealed 20% of antibiotics are prescribed inappropriately “with a large disparity between the actual versus what experts consider the ideal number of prescriptions.”

More than 80% of people have been prescribed antibiotics to treat bronchitis this year, a proportion that should have been less than 15%.

PHE’s ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign, which launched last year, returns on October 23 to warn the public about the risks of antibiotic resistance.

Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope, lead pharmacist for antimicrobial resistance at PHE, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a very real risk and pharmacists have a vital role to play in helping to tackle this issue by promoting self-care as an alternative to antibiotics when they are not needed.

“PHE’s ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign aims to support pharmacists and other healthcare professionals by helping to explain the risks of antibiotic resistance to the public.

“We want people to understand that if they are feeling under the weather, antibiotics may not always be effective to treat their condition, and if they are told antibiotics are not needed they can speak to their pharmacist about the most effective way to manage their symptoms.”

PHE and NHS England will provide pharmacy teams with non-prescription pads which will lay out the reasons why people are not being prescribed antibiotics. Nurses have also been urged to use the pads which GPs did last year.

“The leaflets when used by GPs was found to, help change the dialogue between patients and prescribers and ensuring patients feel their illness is being taken seriously, even without the prescription of an antibiotic,” Dr Ashiru-Oredope.

“I hope pharmacists will find them useful and get behind the campaign to help us spread this important message.”

According to research over 75% of pharmacy professionals believe they have a key role to play to help control antibiotic use and 97% recognised how important it is for pharmacists to provide self-care advice to patients for common infections.

English Pharmacy Board chair Sandra Gidley said: “Pharmacists have an important role to play in efforts to reduce expectations for antibiotics by encouraging patients to manage their symptoms and pain with over the counter remedies for minor ailments when antibiotics are not prescribed.

“The Treat Your Infection non-prescription pad highlights the important role of self-care in a format that is easy for patients to understand and I’m very optimistic about their roll out in pharmacies this year. I think pharmacists will find them a very valuable tool for talking to patients about the best ways to treat symptoms of illness such as coughs, colds and sore throats.”