Our Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG) have spent the last ten years raising public awareness of the threat antibiotic resistance poses. But is the message getting through? SAPG lead Dr Jacqui Sneddon decided to find out, with help from colleagues in our Community Engagement Directorate.

Since 2010, the Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG) have led annual campaigns, centred around European Antibiotic Awareness Day on 18 November. The aim is to communicate messages to healthcare staff, patients and the public about the threat of antimicrobial resistance and the need to use antibiotics wisely to protect them for future generations. Staff in health boards and our Public Partners have supported campaign activities tirelessly across hospital and community settings, including schools, youth groups and even Aberdeen Football Club. We’ve also managed to get our own Brownie badge, thanks to one enterprising SAPG committee member developing an awareness raising project for her Brownie pack.  But how do we really know if these messages are reaching the public? Is what we’re doing really influencing people’s behaviour around managing common infections and seeking antibiotics from their GP?

Opportunity knocks…

After attending a Scottish Health Council (now Community Engagement) presentation on Citizens’ Panel surveys back in 2019, it struck me that there may be an opportunity to have a Citizens’ Panel survey on antibiotics.  

A Citizens’ Panel is a large, demographically representative group of citizens regularly used to assess public preferences and opinions. The Our Voice Citizens’ Panel was established in 2016 to be nationally representative and currently comprises just under 1,200 members of the public from across all 31 Integration Authorities. Since the panel was established, it has gathered the public’s views on around 20 different health and social care topics and has begun to demonstrate impact on ongoing health and social care policy and practice.

Welcome result

Our survey ran earlier this year, and received a 52% response from panel members, so it’s statistically robust at a Scotland wide level. More importantly, the recently published findings make welcome reading for those of us working on safeguarding antibiotics. The majority of the panel had heard of antibiotic resistance, knew that this means bacteria fail to be killed by antibiotics and that overuse of antibiotics is the main cause of resistance. Most people also knew the difference between bacterial infections that can be serious and viral infections that usually cause coughs and colds.

When it came to seeking help when they or a family member was unwell with a suspected infection, most said they would ask a healthcare professional such as a doctor or pharmacist for advice, or consult a reputable on-line source such as NHS Inform. Over 90% of panel respondents had been prescribed an antibiotic at some time and about 40% had needed a second antibiotic, possibly because the infection was resistant. When it came to using antibiotics, most people would complete the course, would not share antibiotics with others and were not likely to try to purchase antibiotics on-line or when overseas on holiday. Respondents also knew which common infections are likely to get better without antibiotics, with the exception of earache in young children which they incorrectly thought would usually need antibiotic treatment.

Looking to the future

We also wanted to know whether the panel were aware of the campaigns run by SAPG and others on infection-related topics. About half of respondents had seen some of the campaign materials, usually in Health Centres. I was pleased to learn that over half of respondents were aware of the “Pharmacy First” service which provides treatment of common infections via pharmacies, and over one in four respondents had used the service. And as a pharmacist myself it was also good to know that the majority of people would be happy to seek and take advice from a pharmacist.

This survey has been helpful for SAPG and I’m sure it will be of interest to colleagues in other UK nations. We’re hoping the details will help us design public awareness campaigns to save our antibiotics.  From the survey results, both reinforcing advice about self-care for common infections and highlighting which infections may require antibiotic treatment so that people can consult their GP or pharmacist for advice when necessary look like avenues we may explore in future.   Thanks to the Citizens’ Panel, we’ll now be able to target future campaigns more effectively.

The Our Voice Citizens’ Panel Survey on awareness of antibiotic resistance, appropriate use of antibiotics and related public health campaigns report is available on the Community Engagement website.

Jacqui Sneddon is Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG) lead with Healthcare Improvement Scotland.

@jacquisneddons @HISengage @SAPGAbx

More information

Visit the SAPG website