Why do GP’s overprescribe antibiotics despite longterm ill effects?

Why do GP’s overprescribe antibiotics despite longterm ill effects?

(The information contained in this article is in no way intended to be a substitute for seeing your Doctor or Nurse if you have any concerns about your health)

Longterm side effects (eg development of “Superbugs” like MRSA) from unnecessary antibiotic use are predicted to be the cause of more deaths than cancer in the western world in future years. Antibiotics are very good and, in a lot of cases, critically important when they are used in the right circumstances. The problem is that a lot of antibiotics are unnecessary and given for very dubious reasons by health professionals (see below).

If an antibiotic is given in the wrong circumstance, it will destroy your “good” bowel organisms unnecessarily and can lead to the development of killer Superbugs like MRSA.

The problem is, you won’t know any different until many years later. If, at this point, you are unlucky enough to be in Hospital with an infection, you may well die unnecessarily because of that same unnecessary antibiotic many years previously.

Research from Canada has now shown that 1 in every 3 antibiotics prescribed by Doctors in the community is unnecessary. An unnecessary antibiotic, is an antibiotic given when the overwhelming evidence suggests that a patient has, for example, a bad virus. You may be feeling unwell, but if you have a bad virus, an antibiotic simply will not work and you are being put at risk of very bad longterm side effects, like MRSA (Superbug).

The word antibiotic means antibacterial- ie kills bacterial infections not viral infections. Most sore throats, chesty coughs and green phlegm related illnesses are viral infections..

So why do some Doctors still give unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions? Is it that they know you best and therefore they must be right? Or that your Doctor is older and more experienced? Research has suggested otherwise and the following reasons are widely thought of as the main reasons for Doctors to continue to prescribe them;

  • Patient satisfaction and pressure

Patients often expect a prescription from their Doctor especially if they are paying money. Patients sometimes feel like they might have to answer to their partner for “wasting” money on visiting their Doctor if they don’t get a prescription.No one likes confrontation and therefore the antibiotic is given.

A patient may feel more unwell than normal and sometimes think, that if the Doctor doesn’t prescribe them an antibiotic, they feel the Doctor doesn’t actually realise how poorly they feel. Viruses can make you feel unwell but they unfortunately have to resolve by themselves in most cases. No one likes confrontation and therefore the antibiotic is given.

And even when there is no expectation of antibiotics from patients or their families, Doctors may think there is, and as a result are more likely to prescribe antibiotics.

  • Time constraints

Doctors often have short amount of time to see patients.Interviews with Doctor’s has shown, that they may quickly prescribe antibiotics in order to avoid lengthy explanations of why the antibiotics are not needed and this ultimately allows them to see more patients. An antibiotic prescription is given and this ends the consultation early.

  • Decision fatigue

The more tired your Doctor gets, especially at the end of a long working day the more likely they are to make incorrect decisions

  • Uncertain diagnosis

In some cases, Doctors doubt themselves over the correct diagnosis and may go ahead and prescribe antibiotics because they perceive that the risk of not giving them is greater than the risk of giving them an unnecessary antibiotic.


Despite this, it is very important to reiterate though, that antibiotics are critically important in the treatment of many infections. Used correctly, not only are they essential but it is also crucially important that you get them as soon as possible.

If, for example, you have symptoms suggestive of a serious illness eg meningitis/ sepsis/ pneumonia etc you need to see your Doctor as soon as possible and have them started immediately in order to prevent potentially life threatening complications.

They are also important in the treatment of some throat, ear and kidney infections etc to reduce symptoms and prevent complications. In some instances they are also used as a preventive measure to prevent infection in vulnerable patients.

There are many other really important reasons to start antibiotics. In these cases, the benefit you get from antibiotics vastly outweigh any potential side effects. The big problem is that health professionals, for the reasons mentioned above, too often prescribe them incorrectly and unnecessarily for viral throat infections/ viral chest infections etc and therefore you get none of the benefits and risk all of the potential side effects.

At Collins Medical Practice, we will make sure that we will do whatever is necessary, including in many cases prescribing antibiotics, to get you feeling better, as soon as possible. But we will make sure, that we won’t prescribe antibiotics for the dubious reasons as mentioned above.