I always start the day by listening to Radio 4’s Today programme and frequently find myself muttering and grumbling. But I recently found myself shouting at the radio in exasperation.
The cause? There was a discussion around a recent British Medical Journal article in which Professor Martin J Llewelyn et al claimed there is no evidence to "back up" the belief that "stopping antibiotic treatment early encourages antibiotic resistance".
Now, this is quite clearly a story involving medicines. The experts in medicines and their use are pharmacists. Unfortunately, the Today programme only chose to interview one of the authors of the paper and the chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, Helen Stokes-Lampard. I am sure that many of my pharmacist colleagues will have shared my frustration at the lack of a pharmacist’s voice.
Happily the day improved and I was delighted to hear pharmacists speaking on behalf of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) and the profession. I didn’t hear them all but, according to RPS data, there were 48 mentions of the society, including on a number of BBC programmes and Sky news. There were also 342 online mentions.
Generally, RPS spokespeople are seen, heard or read about in the national media five times a week on average. This is much better than it used to be, but it is still sometimes galling that the medics are often the first point of call for medicine-related items.
But once I had calmed down, it was time for reflection. After all, I reasoned, it is doctors who generally prescribe antibiotics, so maybe the role of the pharmacist is not entirely clear. I then discovered that research presented to the RPS’s antimicrobial expert advisory group showed that awareness of the role community pharmacists could play in antimicrobial stewardship is low. This is worrying, given that there is a government target to reduce inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics by 50% by 2020.
As it happens, the RPS has been thinking about this for some time and will be launching a campaign in September. Part of that will be highlighting the support and input that community pharmacists can have. We can help with self care for self-limiting illnesses, and take time to explain to patients that antibiotics are not a quick fix. We should also be clear about appropriate prescribing and be ready to challenge inappropriate use.
The RPS we will be producing a quick reference guide and other tools to help our members. So, I would urge people to make this a priority – get involved and help tackle this very real problem. Who knows, if we do a good enough job and people notice, then even the Today programme might go to a pharmacist as their first port of call.