Dr Maureen Baker: GPs have made real progress on antibiotic prescribing, but there's still more to do

In my two years as chair of the RCGP the issue of growing resistance to antibiotics must have been front page news ten times or more.

These news stories are often critical of our profession, focussing on inappropriate prescribing or ridiculous notions that GPs should be sanctioned for prescribing incorrectly.

Yet a 'good news' story that shows antibiotics prescribing to be at its lowest in five years has hardly featured in the national media at all.

Figures from Antibiotics Research UK have shown that 36.5m were prescribed this year - lower than 2011 when 36.75m were prescribed - and a significant 5.6% down on 2012 when prescriptions soared to 37.92m.

Antibiotic resistance

Growing global resistance to antibiotics is incredibly serious - and the importance of doing what we can to curb this trend, including reducing inappropriate prescribing of the drugs, is something I have been vocal about.

If just one patient decides not to push for antibiotics when they have a life-limiting illness as a result of seeing a story in the media – negative or not – then that is a good thing. But, I think it's also necessary to give credit where it's due and highlight when things are improving. And nearly one and a half million fewer prescriptions than just three years ago, is a positive step forward.

You will all have played your part, so well done and keep up the good work.

The problem isn't solved. Far from it - and the results published this week are very interesting, particularly with respect to the very pronounced geographical patterns in prescribing, and the link the researchers make to deprivation.

I'm not sure whether this is an antimicrobial resistance issue, but it certainly raises a lot of questions about health inequalities and the work we need to do to understand and address this.

There is a clear link between patients in areas of high deprivation and conditions, such as COPD, for example, for which antibiotics are necessary. We need to be asking what we can do to lessen the prevalence of COPD, not just jumping to the conclusion that GPs in deprived areas prescribe inappropriately.

A global concern

Antimicrobial resistance remains a huge global concern and we, as GPs, still have a lot to do to try and curb this worrying trend.
We need to ensure that antibiotics are the best course of action when we prescribe them - and we need to do what we can to prescribe the best strain. The college has developed the TARGET antibiotics toolkit, along with Public Health England, to support all prescribing healthcare professionals with this often difficult task.

We need to be firm with our patients who, as we know, often expect antibiotics even when they are not necessary. And to this end, our patients have a huge responsibility as well.

With World Antibiotics Awareness Week starting on Monday - a new 'week' to show how seriously the World Health Organisation is taking the issue - it seems apt to make it clear that there is a long way to go. But well done and thank you for the progress you have made so far.

  • Dr Baker is chairwoman of the RCGP and a GP in Lincoln

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