Launching today: Public Health England’s Keep Antibiotics Working campaign

Blog post by Helen Nash

Tuesday 23 October 2018

Public Health England’s ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign returns today to alert the general public to the risks of antibiotic resistance. Read about the campaign and how you can lend your support.

Antibiotic Resistance: background to the campaign

In the early part of the last century the discovery of antibiotics revolutionised healthcare. Common yet frequently deadly illnesses such as tuberculosis (TB) could be treated effectively, and the dangers of routine surgery and childbirth were vastly reduced.

However, bacteria have evolved to resist the drugs developed to combat them and so we see strains of bacteria for which antibiotics no longer work. This is becoming an increasingly significant issue as the pace at which new antibiotics are discovered has slowed, whilst antibiotic use has increased. Experts predict that in just over 30 years antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.

The spread of resistant bacteria is driven by overuse of antibiotics. While antibiotics are vital for treating many infections, there is evidence that antibiotics are often used when they are not needed, for example, for viral infections such as colds or flu where they are not effective, or for illnesses that can get better by themselves. This is, at least in part, due to patients expecting antibiotics, without understanding that they may not be effective for their illness. The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign therefore aims to reduce patient expectations for antibiotics

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign

Following a successful pilot in the North West in February 2017, Public Health England launched a national campaign in October 2017 to alert the public to the issue of antibiotic resistance, with the aim of reducing patient’s expectation for antibiotics which supports GPs in their efforts to reduce prescribing. The campaign contributes to the government’s ambition to halve inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics by 2020.

‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ returns on 23 October and will run for eight weeks, supported by advertising on TV, radio, video on demand, social media, digital, and search; partnerships with local pharmacies, GP surgeries and local authority community hubs, such as children’s centres and libraries; and PR activity.

‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ uses memorable advertising to capture the audience’s attention, whilst delivering a powerful message that taking antibiotics when you don’t need them puts you and your family at risk’. Watch the TV advert on YouTube.

As part of the campaign, prescribers are being given Treat Your Infection non-prescription pads to help them provide patients with advice on how respiratory tract and urinary tract infections can be managed at home if antibiotics are not required. As well as helping to satisfy patient concerns, they help alleviate pressure on healthcare professionals to prescribe.

Previous campaign success

Research shows when the campaign launched nationally in 2017 the activity generated high levels of awareness and the key message cut through, with 81% of the public acknowledging that taking antibiotics unnecessarily puts them and their family at risk. Significantly, there was a positive impact on intended behaviour, with 78% of the public stating that they would be unlikely to ask their GP for antibiotics following the campaign. GPs have welcomed the ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign, with 93% saying they felt it supports them to say “no” to antibiotics when they are not needed.

How you can help

Download free materials, including posters, leaflets and a social media toolkit, from our Campaign Resource Centre to help you promote the national ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign.

You can follow the campaign on social media; search #KeepAntibioticsWorking and help to spread the message.

For more information on antibiotics and when they should be used, visit the NHS Antibiotic Resistance page.

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