Life & Culture

Dr Ellie Cannon: No need for medication


People assume that doctors love prescribing drugs and that the medical profession see tablets as the panacea to everything.

Actually, many of us, especially in general practice, are quite the opposite. I spend a large part of my consultation time explaining to patients why they don’t need antibiotics or why a statin won’t be needed.

As amazed as I am by medical science, everything has a downside. Even the humble paracetamol has side effects, and doctors and patients have to recognise this so we don’t add to the problem. After decades of freely prescribing sleeping tablets as a quick fix, scores of people here but more so in the States are now addicted to them. Patients wanted an instant solution, and doctors were far too eager to hand them out.

The Chief Medical Officer recently described the threat of antibiotic resistance as being on a par with terrorism. Simple infections we used to find easy to treat, in 10 to 20 years will be resistant, leaving us all at risk of serious complications. Years of free-flowing antibiotic prescribing has led to the rise of resistance and super-bugs, and we will all pay the price. This is a day-to-day reality in practice where we are already finding it hard to treat what should be non-significant infections. Some patients think we are withholding antibiotics due to cost but that is not the case (amoxicillin is very cheap). Many infections we see in general practice such as coughs, sinusitis, eye infections and ear infections do not need anything other than your own fabulous immune system to sort it out.

Likewise we’re starting to take people off statins. Research has shown that rather than treating everyone with high cholesterol, we only actually need to treat those with a high risk of heart disease. I think this is great for patients: statins have a high rate of side effects particularly muscle pains, so if you can avoid those, you’ll move more and lower your risk of heart disease anyway, tablet-free!

So the next time you go to the GP and they don’t hand you a green piece of paper, don’t be disappointed. Be relieved.

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