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Home News centre National Press Releases 2012 Press Releases ›  Why your doctor didn’t give you antibiotics today

Why your doctor didn’t give you antibiotics today

16 November 2012

A new Antibiotic Awareness leaflet [external link] has been produced to encourage patients visiting their doctor with cold and flu symptoms not to ask for antibiotics for their treatment.

This is being launched on November 18 which marks European Antibiotics Awareness Day (EAAD). This Day aims to raise awareness of the risks associated with the inappropriate use of antibiotics and how to use them responsibly.

The leaflet is designed to encourage a dialogue between the doctor and patient about why they were not prescribed antibiotics today and reminds patients that colds and most coughs, sinusitis, earache and sort throats often get better without antibiotics.

To reassure patients it gives details about how long these infections typically last, what they can do to ease their symptoms and when you, or your child, should go back to your GP practice or contact NHS Direct.

What are the signs that you should seek medical help?

The following is listed in order of urgency with the most urgent symptoms listed first:

  • If you develop a severe headache or are sick.
  • If your skin is very cold or has a strange colour, or you develop an unusual rash.
  • If you feel confused or have slurred speech or are very drowsy.
  • If you have difficulty breathing. Signs that suggest breathing problems can include:
    • Breathing quickly;
    • Turning blue around the lips and the skin below the mouth and
    • Skin between or above the ribs getting sucked or pulled in with every breath.
  • If you develop chest pain.
  • If you have difficulty swallowing or are drooling.
  • If you cough up blood.
  • If hearing problems develop or if there is fluid coming out of your ears.

Dr Cliodna McNulty, the HPA’s lead on EAAD said: “As we have seen in previous HPA research a lot of people with coughs, colds and flu still visit the doctor expecting to be given antibiotics for their treatment and it can be difficult for the doctor to refuse.

“This expectation puts a lot of pressure on the doctor to prescribe antibiotics which is often not necessary and cause increased antimicrobial resistance in the long run. Bacteria will always adapt to try and survive the effects of the antibiotic and we have seen that the problem of resistance is growing. “GP patients who have had antibiotics in the last 6 months are twice as likely to have an infection with resistant bacteria.” This is why it is very important that we preserve the antibiotics that we have by not prescribing them where they are not necessary so that they are effective when we really do need them.

In addition to the contributions from the HPA this leaflet has been developed in association with the Royal College of General Practitioners, The British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, NHS Scotland, Royal College of Nursing, Infection Prevention Society and the British Infection Association.


Notes for editors:

  1. More information about Antibiotics Awareness Day can be found here: [external link]
  2. The Health Protection Agency is an independent UK organisation that was set up by the government in 2003 to protect the public from threats to their health from infectious diseases and environmental hazards. In April 2013, subject to the usual approvals procedures for establishing new bodies, the Health Protection Agency will become part of a new organisation called Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. To find out more, visit our website: or follow us on Twitter @HPAuk or ‘Like’ us on Facebook at
  3. 3. For more information please contact the national HPA press office at Colindale on 0208 327 7901 or email Out of hours the duty press officer can be contacted on 0208 200 4400.

Amended: Monday 19 November 2012

Last reviewed: 19 November 2012