Viewpoint: GPs need help to cut antibiotic use, but is anyone listening?

GPs are being blamed for overuse of antibiotics, but where is the support for them to improve prescribing, asks Oldham GP Dr Anita Sharma.

Dr Sharma: Practices need investment to improve accuracy of antibiotic prescribing (Photo: Haymarket Medical/UNP)
Dr Sharma: Practices need investment to improve accuracy of antibiotic prescribing (Photo: Haymarket Medical/UNP)

There is an obvious need to reduce antibiotic prescribing nationally: an over-reliance on prescribed antibiotics has led to the development of significant resistance to many. This, coupled with the fact that few new molecules are being developed, means that there is the potential for patients to be seriously harmed by infections that were treatable with antibiotics only a few years ago.

Andrew Miller MP (Lab, Ellesmere Port and Neston), chair of the Science and Technology Committee, said last month: ‘Antibiotic resistance can not be entirely prevented, but it is a problem made worse by inappropriate use and poor stewardship of antibiotic in healthcare… Antibiotics are often prescribed by GPs simply to achieve a placebo effect or placate patients with distressing symptoms.’

This was highlighted by England’s CMO, Professor Dame Sally Davies, who said: ‘There are few public health issues of potentially greater importance for society than antibiotic resistance.’

The DH has published a five-year antimicrobial resistance strategy. This includes professional education, public engagement and steps to improve antibiotic prescribing. There is enough evidence that frequent courses and long-duration prescribing of antibiotics is related to resistance.

Now, we have a rapid CRP point-of-care test, which can help primary care to reduce their prescribing.

The technology involves taking a small sample of blood combined with a reagent containing an anti-CRP antibody and measuring the resulting complex using an automated reader - simple enough for primary care to do.

The question that faces primary care is who will buy those machines and point-of-care tests. One machine costs around £2,500 and one point-of-care test strip costs £4.

If Mr Miller and Dame Sally want GPs to reduce their prescribing, they need to find solutions to the increasing problem - funding to help GPs. Let us not leave the task unfinished and continue to blame GPs.

Dr Anita Sharma is a GP partner in Oldham and clinical director for vascular care and prescribing at Oldham CCG.

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