Keep Antibiotics Working

Public Health England

Showcase submission:

In October 2017 Public Health England (PHE) launched a national campaign across England to support the government’s efforts to reduce inappropriate prescriptions for antibiotics by raising awareness of the issue of antibiotic resistance and reducing demand from the public.


Policy objective

Antibiotic resistance is a complex problem – overuse and misuse of antibiotics is creating antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria against which none of our current antibiotics work. The race is on to develop new antibiotics to kill these resistant strains but, if we don’t win that race, we could face a future in which antibiotics no longer work. That could mean a return to the pre-antibiotic age, where people with compromised immune systems may not recover from common infections and deaths in childbirth, or from infected wounds, or pneumonia were commonplace. The inappropriate use of antibiotics drives antibiotic resistance and means antibiotics may become less likely to work in the future. The campaign will support the government’s ambition to halve inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics in the UK by 2020.


Aim, key message and evaluation

The public have little understanding of the concept of antibiotic resistance and what it means for them. Research shows that inappropriate prescribing is, in part, due to patients expecting or demanding antibiotics, without understanding whether that they may not be effective for their illness. The focus of this campaign will be on tackling this lack of understanding and thereby reducing patient pressure for antibiotics.


The campaigns key aims are to:


Alert and inform the public to the issue of AMR in a way that  they understand in a manner which they understand and increase recognition of personal risk of inappropriate usage

Reduce public expectation for antibiotics by increasing understanding amongst patients about why they might not be given antibiotics, so reducing demand

Support healthcare professional (HCP) change by boosting support for alternatives to prescription

The messaging for the national campaign aims to move patients to a better understanding that taking antibiotics when you don’t need them means they are less likely to work for you in the future and to trust their doctors’ advice regarding the best appropriate treatment for them.


The national campaign builds upon learnings from the pilot in the North West in February 2017. Research findings from  the pilot campaign showed positive results:


49% of consumers and 60% of GPs in the North West were aware of the campaign

The memorable creative drew our audience’s attention, with many spontaneously recalling elements of the ads

The campaign appears to have had a positive impact, with people in the region less likely to ask their GP for antibiotics after the campaign (a 6ppt shift)

GPs were less likely to report being asked to prescribe antibiotics frequently when they are not needed (a decrease of 9ppt)

Following the national roll-out, pre and post national evaluation will be conducted to assess:



Understanding of key messages

Attitudes towards antibiotics

Expectation for antibiotics

Changes in prescribing rate

Who is the campaign aimed at?

The campaign is aimed at all adults with a particular focus on groups most likely to use antibiotics:


Women aged 20-45 who tend to have primary responsibility for family health across SEG groups

Older men and women aged 50+, with a focus on those with recurrent conditions and high levels of contact with GPs1

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