Unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics is known to be risky, as it raises the chances of bacteria becoming resistant to commonly used drugs.
Speaking in the lead up to European Antibiotic Awareness Day in November 2012, England's chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies warned: "Antibiotics are losing their effectiveness at a rate that is both alarming and irreversible.
"Bacteria are adapting and finding ways to survive the effects of antibiotics, ultimately becoming resistant so they no longer work. And the more you use an antibiotic, the more bacteria become resistant to it."
But it can be difficult for GPs to say no to patients who have arrived in their consulting room with a cough or cold, expecting to be handed a prescription.
As a result, many are still prescribing antibiotics for mild infections when they are not necessary, or for illnesses that will never respond to this type of medication.
To tackle the problem, the Royal College of GPs has launched a toolkit providing guidance on the appropriate prescription of antibiotics for those in GP jobs.
A number of health professionals have contributed to the TARGET (Treat Antibiotics Responsibly, Guidance and Education Tool) toolkit, including microbiologists, clinicians, GPs, pharmacists, guidance developers and other stakeholders.
Available on the Royal College of GPs' website and produced in partnership with the Health Protection Agency and the Antimicrobial Stewardship in Primary Care Group, it provides a simple and effective approach to the treatment of common infections.
Dr Michael Moore, clinical champion for antimicrobial stewardship at the Royal College of GPs, explained that the toolkit should help those working in GP jobs to assess their current practice and focus on ways to reduce antibiotic prescribing in situations where they are of little or no benefit.
"We hope that practices will pick up on antibiotic awareness and integrate this into their service development programme over the coming years, perhaps focussing on a different clinical condition each year," he said.
Dr Cliodna McNulty, head of primary care at the Health Protection Agency, observed that doctors are regularly faced with patients who expect to be given antibiotics for uncomplicated infections that will get better on their own.
"This is a comprehensive toolkit that will provide GPs with a range of information and patient resources to help them prescribe antibiotics responsibly," she revealed.
"The resources in the TARGET antibiotics toolkit include an antibiotic information leaflet to share with patients during the consultation. This will help patient understanding about the usual length of coughs, colds and sore throats and flu and give them advice about self-care and when they need to return to the surgery if their symptoms worsen."
Certain groups of antibiotics, such as cephalosporins and quinolones, are already being prescribed less frequently, according to Dr McNulty.
However, overall antibiotic use has increased in recent years, while antibiotic resistance continues to rise.
Dr McNulty reminded GPs: "We should only prescribe antibiotics when they are needed, so helping to reduce the risk of resistance emerging and extending the lifespan of the antibiotics we have."
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