GPs have been warned to stop routinely prescribing antibiotics for coughs and colds to avoid contributing to the spread of hospital bugs and putting vital operations and treatment at risk.
The prescription of the pills is unnecessary in most cases and is adding to the number of infections that are immune to antibiotics, according to the European Centre of Disease Prevention and Control, which is to write to all GPs over the matter.
Cancer treatment, organ transplants and hip replacements may be at risk because antibiotics used to shield patients from hospital infections will no longer be effective.
"The BMA has been campaigning for years to discourage inappropriate use of antibiotics," said Dr Laurance Buckman, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP committee. "This means two things – patients should not ask for them when they are not needed, and GPs should not give them."
Doctors said they feel pressured by patients to issue antibiotics to treat minor complaints and fear they will be angered if they are refused treatment.
"It's shocking to think a GP would prescribe a medicine because they feel they need to placate their patients. Does this show a lack of training in how to deal with such a situation?" – Anneke Cox, Brighton