Doctors have criticised new health secretary Therese Coffey over reports that pharmacists will be allowed to prescribe antibiotics without the approval of a doctor.
According to The Times, Ms Coffey’s “Plan for Patients” will give pharmacists the power to prescribe certain drugs, such as contraception, without a prescription in an effort to reduce the need for GP appointments and tackle waiting lists.
Responding to reports of the plans, Rachel Clarke, an NHS palliative care doctor and writer, wrote on Twitter: “This is staggeringly irresponsible of Therese Coffey and will cause so much more harm than good.
“Doctors do not – unlike Coffey – dish out spare antibiotics to our family and friends because we’re painfully aware of the harms of antibiotic resistance. Utter recklessness.”
Stephen Baker, a professor at Cambridge University and an expert in molecular microbiology and antimicrobial resistance, branded the health secretary’s plans “moronic”.
He told the newspaper that the more antibiotics were used “the more likely we are to get drug-resistant organisms”.
He added that it was “nuts” to consider widening access to drugs, adding that resistance against antibiotics is “clearly one of the biggest problems humanity is facing in respect of infectious disease at the moment”.
The overuse of antibiotics contributes to the emergence of drug-resistant bacteria, causing the drugs to be ineffective in their treatment.
The backlash comes after Ms Coffey admitted to sharing prescription medicines with friends and family.
She made the remarks during a meeting with health officials last month as they discussed ways to alleviate the pressures on GPs.
According to the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA), it is illegal to share prescription drugs with someone with who it is not intended.
Sources close to the health secretary told The Times that her comments were a private remark and personal anecdote brought up during a meeting about antibiotics.
They added: “She understands the importance of anti-microbial resistance, would encourage people not to share medicines and won’t do so again in the future.”
The Independent has contacted The Department of Health for comment.