Blaming the victim: Antibiotic edition

Having failed to hold back the tides, King Camerute is now taking on the worthy task of stemming the flood of antibiotic resistant microbes, according to a report on the front page of today’s Times. On the inside pages we have an opinion piece by one Theodore Dalrymple, under the title

Patients, not GPs, are to blame for the antibiotics crisis

Since GPs are responsible for prescribing most of the antibiotics in this country, I was curious how they were not to blame. I assumed the story would take one of two tacks (or both):

  1. Patients are obtaining prescriptions under false pretences, perhaps by exaggerating or misrepresenting their symptoms.
  2. Patients are somehow acquiring antibiotics without prescriptions.

Neither of these is mentioned. In fact, despite the headline — which Dr Dalrymple is presumably not responsible for — the article states clearly “The real problem we face is the over-prescription of antibiotics in ordinary medical practice.” Patients are never mentioned in the article until the last paragraph, which states, in full

And, hard though it ma be for some to accept, it would help if patients took their GPs’ advice rather than demanding the drugs they want. Doctor really does know best.

Well, that’s it then. The responsibility does not lie with the GP who actively wrote a prescription. It lies with the stupid but strangely powerful patient who “demanded” it. And it gets worse. We live, it seems, in a “litigious age and doctors are afraid”.

There is, after all, more rejoicing by malpractice lawyers over one missed diagnosis than over 99 people treated unnecessarily with antibiotics.

Presumably the author thinks they should rejoice more over all the people treated unnecessarily with antibiotics? I’m confused. In any case, they’re bad people, so anything that makes them happy is bad for the rest of us.

I’m no expert in British law, but why would a treatment with unnecessary antibiotics prevent a lawsuit? How many doctors have actually been sued, under circumstances where a random antibiotic prescription might have forestalled the lawsuit? Dr Dalrymple doesn’t even have a silly anecdote to offer.

Or could it be that overworked GPs find prescribing antibiotics to be a convenient substitute for actually talking to the patients? Dr Dalrymple, we learn at the bottom, is a “retired prison doctor” which, I think, helps to explain where he acquired his exquisite contempt for patients.

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