Treating sore throats in pharmacies: Reducing the pressure on inappropriate antibiotic use

20 Sep 2016
Written by
Prof Tracey Thornley

Tracey Thornley PhD FRPharmS FFRPS is Senior Manager, Contract Framework and Outcomes, at Boots UK, and an Honorary Professor in Pharmacy Practice at the University of Nottingham. She is the lead author of a recent paper detailing the results of Boots’ sore throat diagnostic test pilot study in pharmacies in 2015.

We already know that most sore throats are caused by a virus and cannot be treated with antibiotics, so this is one of the most inappropriate uses for them. However, there are some sore throats caused by a bacterial infection, usually Streptococcus A (Strep A), where they may be useful, if a proper test is done first.

Boots piloted a sore throat Test and Treat Service last year. It included an effective point–of–care diagnostic test alongside a comprehensive consultation with a pharmacist. Patients were advised of the test result and, if positive, offered antibiotic treatment.

Pharmacy is the ideal place for patient counselling and point-of-care testing. Often patients can be put off by the wait for an appointment with their GP, so pharmacies, being located where people live, shop, work and travel, provide great accessibility and many are open seven days a week and late nights.

What is more, patients are happy to take advice from pharmacists that antibiotic treatment would not be useful for them and they should use other products to relieve their symptoms, as demonstrated by the fact that 92% of patients would recommend the service to their friends and family.  This can help to conserve antibiotics for future generations and revolutionise the delivery of global healthcare.

A paper published earlier this month in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy shows that if pharmacy-based test-and-treat services were widely available, then as many as 800,000 of the 1.2 million consultations that GPs see annually for sore throats could potentially be seen in community pharmacy. Such a service should reduce antibiotic pressure and the emergence of resistance, and further the aims of antibiotic control programs.

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