three members of hospital staff

A change for the better at the surgery?

Peter Gibson ANTRUK announcements, Coronavirus COVID-19

three members of hospital staff

A new survey by our friends at MGP (1) shows that GP practices and COVID-19 have changed the way we approach care. Practices are doing far more telephone triage, online appointments and telephone consultations.

But their report states that many medics are uneasy with the lack of face-to-face appointments. Plus, what does this mean for antibiotic prescribing – especially at this time of colds, flu and heightened chest infections?

Antibiotic Research UK’s media consultant and NHS worker Peter Gibson investigates:

“Innovation, fortitude and resourcefulness are much in evidence at the surgery and pharmacy these days. Just when I least wanted to be ill recently, I had a phone conversation with my GP who subsequently penned a prescription. I stood outside my usual dispensary, until it was safe to be go in as one of the two patients permitted there. The staff as ever were friendly and polite, even if they were gowned and masked-up. One looked more like she was about to do some welding rather than hand me my medication!

You can totally understand the need for protection for patient, pharmacist and practitioner. But what if those new methods of working put lives at risk and medics failed to notice symptoms that result in conditions like treatable cancer? Moreover, what if we end up with greater risk of bacteria in our bodies becoming antibiotic resistant?

Surgery survey

MGP are one of the most prominent medical publishers in the UK. They partnered with us in a past survey on the dissemination of antibiotics in pre-COVID-19 times. They’ve recently reported on how practices are coping with the coronavirus.

The headline finding is that surgeries are quiet, too quiet for some. Professionals are worried that patients might not be presenting with the symptoms that give us early warning of serious disease. A stunning 99% of respondents were worried about this, with 54% very worried.

All change

To compensate for the fear of attending surgery and in a bid to protect themselves, practices have changed the way well, they practice! Online innovations mean that they can conduct appointments via the web. Indeed, there was an appetite from NHS commissioners for such innovations to begin well before COVID-19.

Ergo, telephone triage to reduce appointment waiting times.

But it seems many practitioners believe there is nothing like the personal touch and you can understand why. One of the perks of being a family doctor is that you get to know your patients really well and experience tells you they are all individuals.

Aside from missing symptoms or even spotting the mental health issues that lead to physical problems such as heart complaints, alcohol addiction and eating disorders, GPs could actually be putting their patients’ lives in danger – by overusing antibiotics.

Online prescribing means more antibiotics

A survey of online versus face-to-face antibiotic prescribing for children in the United States, showed that virtual doctors disseminated 10% more antibiotics for chest infections than urgent care centres and nearly 20% more than GPs in primary care did (2).

Antibiotics are already being over-prescribed in person at UK surgeries and indeed at COVID-19 hubs. If we add in the online, we could be in-line for a serious antibiotic resistance crisis.

This is something we need to address and quickly. I suspect our friendly family practitioner will NOT be seeing the majority of us soon and will not be able to do any personal diagnostics to see if we really need antibiotics.

Sarah Glover, ANTRUK education committee member, is very concerned in the changes to dental antibiotic use during the pandemic. Read about her concerns here.

Same quality – whatever the engagement

We must make sure our on-screen and on telephone interviews match the quality of that few minutes of compassion, expertise and experience we have received from our GP in person for so many years.

If not, I am virtually sure we will see disease diagnosed late and the misuse of antibiotics proliferate.”

You can view MGP’s survey by visiting the Guidelines in Practice website:


Are you worried about a drug-resistant infection? Visit our Patient Support pages or call the experienced pharmacists and nurses on our team on 07367 784114 or email You might also want to take a look at our advice for the simple steps you can take to help prevent antibiotic resistance.