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NHS UK Announces a New Way to Quickly Diagnose Throat Infections

NOV 21, 2016 | EINAV KEET
One of the best ways that we can reduce unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions is with better diagnostic tools to identify bacterial infections. A new initiative launched by the United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) is reportedly offering a quick diagnostic test for individuals suffering with sore throats.
 
On November 14th, the second annual World Antibiotic Week began with new calls for awareness on the issue as well as efforts to encourage judicious use of these lifesaving, but also overused drugs. To that end, the NHS’s Antibiotic Awareness Campaign in the UK aims to decelerate the development of antibiotic-resistant superbugs by emphasizing the responsible use of antibiotics, or what the health agency says is a focus on using the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time, for the right duration. Earlier this year, health officials in the UK issued a progress report on the state of antimicrobial resistance in the country, noting some improvements in reducing certain infections, but also a continued increase in the number of antibiotics prescribed there.
 
One of the key steps to bringing down the number of antibiotics prescribed, is to reduce the all-too-common problem of doctors writing antibiotic prescriptions for non-bacterial infections. In March of this year, the NHS announced a national program touted as the world’s largest incentive plan to encourage family doctors, practitioners who work in hospitals, and other health providers to cut back on how many antibiotics they prescribe in an effort to reduce inappropriate use. In that vein, the health agency launched a national effort that brings in pharmacists to offer diagnostic services to quickly recognize bacterial infections. The program is one of eight new initiatives announced by the NHS Innovation Accelerator (NIA), aimed at finding the newest innovations in healthcare.
 
The new Sore Throat Test and Treat service gives UK residents suffering from a sore throat a new option that allows them to avoid a visit to the general practitioner. Under the initiative, individuals will be able to go to walk-in pharmacies and receive a fast diagnosis to find out if they have a bacterial illness, thus determining whether or not they need an antibiotic. The program was created based on a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. That investigation examined the potential role of point-of-care diagnostics in determining when antibiotics are needed, and brought a test-run of a sore throat test-and-treat service to 35 pharmacies in the UK. The test looked for Streptococcus A in patients with sore throat symptoms, and those whose swab tests came up positive were offered an antibiotic prescription.
 
According to the NHS, about 1.2 million individuals in the UK visit their general practitioner each year for a sore throat, and of those patients, about 62% leave with an antibiotic prescription. This is despite the fact that some tests indicate fewer than 10% of sore throat patients actually have a bacterial infection. The new Sore Throat Test and Treat initiative aims to bypass the number of visits to doctors’ offices while offering accurate diagnosis and proper treatment recommendations. The NHS notes that of the 367 patients who have so far used the new service, about two-thirds had viral infections that did not require antibiotic medication. Overall, the program has the potential to eliminate 800,000 unneeded doctors’ office visits and save the UK £34 million per year if the initiative is expanded nationally.
 
“Necessity is the mother of invention, and health care worldwide is now fizzing with smart innovation,” said NHS England chief executive Simon Stevens in a recent press release. “In the NHS, we’re now taking practical action to develop and fast track these new techniques into mainstream patient care.”
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