Research by charity Antibiotic Research UK and analytic company EXASOL on primary care prescribing data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) has revealed that less antibiotics were prescribed this year than last year.
Prescriptions have dropped 5.6% since the recorded high in 2012, when 3.8m antibiotic prescription were handed out to patients in England, as GPs tighten control on prescribing.
The HSCIC data comprises all prescriptions given by GPs and subsequently dispensed in England over the period from August 2010 to July 2015.
But the statistics showed that GP practices in the most deprived areas of the country are prescribing 20% more than less deprived areas, with the data suggesting that the rate of antibiotic prescriptions may be on the rise in these areas.
The data also highlights a seasonal variation in prescription levels, with 59% more prescriptions in December compared to August, which Antibiotic Research UK said may indicate that patients are asking for antibiotics to treat colds and flus – and are being given this treatment inappropriately.
RCGP chairwoman Dr Maureen Baker said: ‘These figures show the lowest antibiotics prescribing rates in five years – and a huge drop from when prescribing peaked in 2012. This shows that healthcare professionals across the UK are taking our warnings seriously and working to address them.
‘However, growing resistance to antibiotics continues to be a global threat and we can't be complacent. The trends shown today – particularly the link to deprivation – is concerning.
‘This could quite legitimately be because people in high areas of deprivation present more frequently with conditions, such as COPD, that need antibiotics – it is not necessarily indicative of inappropriate prescribing. There may also be different health expectations regarding the prescription of antibiotics in different areas.
‘GPs often face pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics, particularly during winter months when more people are feeling ill, so the national significant drop in prescribing is positive and shows that the work the College and others are doing to support appropriate prescribing and urge healthcare professionals to say "no" is taking effect.’