Experts have argued that it is unnecessary to finish the entire course of antibiotics despite official guidance from the NHS stating it is essential the entirety of the course is finished in order for the treatment to be successful.

An opinion piece from the British Medical Journal (BMJ) argues that there is simply not enough evidence to support the idea that failing to complete a course of antibiotics contributes to the issue of antibiotic resistance.

The piece also goes on to state that it may in fact be advisable for people to stop taking the antibiotics when they feel better, instead of completing the course, as it is believed unnecessary exposure to antibiotics could make resistance even worse. This is because patients are essentially exposing more bacteria to the antibiotics the longer they take them.

The lead author of the opinion piece, Professor Martin Llewelyn, stated: “Historically, antibiotic courses were set by precedent, driven by fear of under-treatment, with less concern about overuse […] Completing the course goes against one of the most fundamental and widespread medication beliefs people have, which is that we should take as little medication as necessary.”

However, the piece does go on to highlight that there are some exceptions. It states that for some diseases, completing the entire course of antibiotics is of paramount importance, as without doing so it could lead to life-threatening conditions.

There is still not enough research to warrant disrupting the current prescribing practices in place, and so the BMJ opinion piece suggests that it would be more pertinent for doctors to advise to ‘stop when you feel better’ as opposed to being advised to complete the entire course.

Kieran Hand, spokesman for the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said: “This opinion article from respected NHS infection experts is a welcome opening of the debate in the UK on the relationship between the length of a course of antibiotics, efficacy and resistance.

“As researchers have pointed out, further research is needed before the ‘Finish the course’ mantra for antibiotics is changed and any alternative message, such as, ‘Stop when you feel better,’ can be confidently advocated.

“The ideal future scenario would be that the right length of treatment for a specific infection for patients is identified from clinical trials and the exact quantity prescribed and dispensed.”

Official NHS guidelines and Public Health England still state that patients should continue to complete the full antibiotic course as prescribed. Which opinion do you agree with – Should patients continue taking antibiotic even after they feel better?