An estimated 160,000 GP appointments could be freed up if schools and nurseries stop sending home children with infective conjunctivitis, according to the RCGP.
Some schools are refusing to admit children with the condition unless they have a prescription for antibiotics.
The situation is ‘clogging up’ appointments for other patients, forcing parents to take time off work, and encouraging unnecessary use of antibiotics.
To mark the beginning of national Self Care Week, RCGP is writing to Ofsted calling for nursery, pre-schools and childcare providers to re-think their policy.
A leaflet of ‘top tips’ for teachers, childcare professionals and parents has been produced to raise awareness of the correct treatment for minor infections.
Infective conjunctivitis is a common condition usually caused by viruses, an allergic reaction or irritating substances coming into contact with the eyes. It is usually painless and in the majority of cases, the condition will clear up on its own in a few days or up to two weeks.
If the case is more serious, it can be treated with over the counter lubricant eye drops or anti-allergy medication.
There is little evidence to show that antibiotics help the condition any more than waiting for it clear up naturally.
Research published in the British Journal of General Practice earlier this year revealed that 87% of nursery schools across England, Scotland and Wales currently exclude children with conjunctivitis from attending.
The policy of half of these (49%) is to refuse to admit the children without a prescription for antibiotics. This goes against clinical guidance from Public Health England advising that treatment for conjunctivitis is only appropriate, and indeed necessary, in severe cases.
Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “GP practices are being swamped with requests for appointments and antibiotics to treat minor conditions, including conjunctivitis, and these cases are clogging up the system, which leads to longer waiting times for patients whose needs might be more urgent.
“Infective conjunctivitis is an unpleasant condition but antibiotics are not the answer in most cases – especially as it’s a viral infection where antibiotics are ineffective.
Dr Baker added that: “Growing resistance to antibiotics will have severe consequences for the health of our population globally.”