'DIY antibiotics' save the NHS millions

Tuesday 18 November 2014


Patients needing long term antibiotics are able to continue their treatment at home instead of having to spend weeks in hospital thanks to a specialist team at Guy’s and St Thomas’.

The outpatient parenteral antibiotic therapy team (OPAT) supports patients to return home by teaching them and their carers to administer their own intravenous antibiotics, or by arranging for a district nurse to visit them daily to do so.

Since April 2012, more than 200 patients have returned home to continue their treatment with the support of the OPAT team, freeing up at least 5,000 beds for other people who need to be in hospital, and saving the NHS an estimated £1.5million in hospital bed days.

Intravenous antibiotics go directly into the bloodstream and usually require patients to stay in hospital until they’ve finished their course, which can last from one to 12 weeks. The team want more people to know about the different options available for intravenous antibiotics during European Antibiotics Awareness Day (Tuesday 18 Nov).

Elizabeth Kyle, 62, from Southwark, was admitted to St Thomas’ Hospital for eight days with an abscess on her vertebrae. She needed long term intravenous antibiotics that would have usually required her to stay in hospital for at least six weeks.

She says: “When you’re unwell you will do anything to get better, but staying in hospital for six weeks would have been so disruptive to my life, I’d have been so isolated from my family and wouldn’t have been able to look after my granddaughter or go to my part time job – something I’d already had to take time off from doing.

“I was so well looked after by the team, they supported me through the whole process of going home and teaching me to give myself the antibiotics. I used to be a nurse so I soon got used to giving myself the medicine!”

Patients of the OPAT service visit the hospital once a week for a check-up, but other than that are able to go on with their normal life. Their antibiotics are reviewed weekly to ensure they are always taking the right type of antibiotics and that no unnecessary medication is taken.

Elizabeth O’Donnell, OPAT clinical nurse specialist, says: “All of our patients are well enough to be at home, apart from their antibiotics – so you can imagine how frustrating it would be for them to spend all that time on a hospital ward.

“Depending on how people feel, if they’re happy to try, we teach them and support them to give themselves the antibiotics. For some people this is not appropriate, so we arrange for a district nurse to visit them in their home to help.

“The home environment has so many benefits for patients. A lot of our younger patients have been able to return to work during their course of antibiotics, it’s amazing to see the difference it makes to patients’ lives.”

In the three years the OPAT service has been running permanently, it has proven to be beneficial to its patients and the Trust.

“We’re ensuring that patients who don’t need to be in the hospital aren’t here unnecessarily and at the same time freeing up beds for people that need to be here,” adds Elizabeth.

More information about the OPAT service at Guy’s and St Thomas’ (PDF 108Kb).

Last updated: November 2014

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