We have all felt like that at times, and may well remember a time that we were super ill and it was only able to be fixed by a course of the strong stuff. This may well lead you to believe that antibiotics are the only thing that will work for you.
This can lead you to wonder “maybe I can get some antibiotics or the pharmacy” or it may get you thinking this: “I am not ill enough to waste my GP’s time, so I’ll just get some over the counter antibiotics”. “Is that possible?”, you may wonder.
Well, in this article we will be answering this commonly asked question and much more, letting you know if you can buy antibiotics over the counter.
Antibiotics are a prescription-only medication
Antibiotics cannot currently be purchased or given over the counter in the UK. they always need to be prescribed. If you have ever visited another country and needed antibiotics whilst you are there for any reason then you may well have noticed that they sell them over the counter.
This is not recommended in the UK, and actually, many professionals advise against the purchase by a UK national of antibiotics in another country.
The reasons for this are varied but it is largely thought to be because of the risk of antibiotics immunity which can happen if antibiotics are taken when they are not needed.
Do I need to see a GP to get antibiotics?
In the UK, you can not get antibiotics without being prescribed them. This means that you need to see a professional who can prescribe medication in order to obtain them.
This may well be a GP, but it can be any healthcare professional with a licence to prescribe medicine of any kind.
This may mean that your pharmacist cannot prescribe antibiotics. With this in mind, seeing your pharmacist for a minor illness may warrant a referral to your GP if the pharmacist suspects that antibiotics will be needed for treatment.
Can I get antibiotics out of hours?
In the UK it is typical for GP surgeries to be closed on weekends, Bank Holidays, and in the evening. However, there are times when our need for healthcare goes beyond 9 am to 5 pm, Monday to Friday.
In this case, there will typically always be another option so that you can see a prescribing practitioner when your normal GP or doctor’s surgery is closed.
They will be able to prescribe you any medicine you need and should give you details of the nearest out of hours pharmacy to get your medicine (this can often be in a supermarket pharmacy).
If you feel you may need antibiotics for any reason when your GP surgery is called you should still call your surgery where they should have the information on their answerphone message of your out of hours services, whether that be a phone number helpline or an address at which you can receive out of hours drop-in care.
Why do I need to be prescribed antibiotics?
The reason why antibiotics are not freely and readily available for purchase over the counter in the United Kingdom is because of the risk of overuse and antibiotic resistance.
For many years antibiotics have been viewed by the public as the be-all and end-all of healthcare, with the ability to solve all health-related issues and illnesses, big or small.
The reality is that antibiotics are only needed for infections. This means that, regardless of popular belief, they are not intended for use when a patent has a virus or other illness, and are also not intended for use as a form of pain relief.
It can be very difficult for anyone other than a trained healthcare practitioner to know for sure whether you are suffering from an infection or something else, and so you need their advice in order to know whether antibiotics will be the correct form of treatment.
For example, you may think your sore throat is a case of strep throat, caused by Streptococcus pyogenes. This is something that requires treatment by strong antibiotics.
However, it may well be a symptom of a bad cold or flu, something that doesn’t require antibiotics. The only way to know for sure what it is is to see a doctor.
Can taking antibiotics unnecessarily cause issues?
Taking antibiotics when they are not needed can cause a plethora of issues. The main issue, and certainly the most frightening issue, is that of antibiotic resistance.
Antibiotic resistance is where bacteria become so used to certain antibiotics that it develops a resistance to them. This means that what would have once killed off a bacteria will not harm it any more.
This can mean that people will need even stronger antibiotics in order to get rid of an infection. Eventually, there will be no antibiotic strong enough to kill the bacteria, resulting in a patient being unable to fight off an infection.
This could have catastrophic results, not just on an individual level, but as a whole society. Both humans and bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics.
For example, where illnesses were once able to be treated with medicine to prevent the bacteria from multiplying and spreading, antibiotic-resistant bacteria will be able to survive and thrive on humans, passing between humans and infecting them.
Depending on the level of antibiotic resistance each human has, the bacteria could eventually affect them in different ways. It may even begin the rise of superbugs that can never be killed by any antibiotic, no matter what human catches it.
This will mean that even if you personally have only ever taken antibiotics when they are needed and so have not built a resistance yourself, the bacteria cannot be affected by the antibiotic.
In turn, this means that no matter how antibiotics you take to try and kill the superbug, you will never fight it off.