GPs lead reduction in NHS use of antibiotics as resistant infections rise

Antibiotic prescribing by GPs fell 17% between 2014 and 2018 - significantly reducing overall NHS use of the medicines at a time when resistant infections are rising fast, official data show.

Antibiotics (Photo: Getty Images)

Figures from Public Health England (PHE) show an estimated 61,000 antibiotic resistant infections in 2018, up 9% from the previous year.

As the NHS continues to push for a reduction in unnecessary antibiotic prescribing, the data show that GPs have led the drive to bring down prescriptions of these medicines.

Overall GP prescribing of antibiotics fell 17.3% between 2014 and 2018, the PHE figures reveal. With around three quarters of antibiotic prescribing taking place in primary care, the drop has brought down overall NHS use - despite a rise in prescribing in hospitals and other community settings.

Antibiotic prescribing

A PHE report on antibiotic use published this week showed that the number of antibiotic items prescribed in primary care as a whole fell from just over two per 1,000 population per day in 2014 to 1.7 in 2018, a 16.7% reduction.

The number of defined daily doses (DDDs) per item rose, however, with '8.5 DDDs per item, per 1,000 inhabitants per day, in 2018, which was 5.3% higher than 8.1 in 2014'.

The report said this indicated 'less antibiotics have been prescribed on average and the higher number of DDDs is likely related to the higher dose or duration'.

PHE has launched its 'Keep Antibiotics Working' campaign for a third year to alert the public to the risks of antibiotic resistance, urging people to 'always take their doctor, pharmacist or nurse’s advice on antibiotics'.

Antimicrobial resitance

Antimicrobial resistance lead for PHE Dr Susan Hopkins said: 'It’s worrying that more infections are becoming resistant to these life-saving medicines and we must act now to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them.

'We have seen positive steps taken to reduce antibiotic use without affecting people’s recovery when they are unwell and GPs should be congratulated in their ongoing work to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.'

RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: 'Antibiotics can be lifesaving drugs but when bacteria become resistant to them – as they increasingly are – they will cease to work, and in many cases we will then have no viable therapeutic alternative, which could be disastrous for the patients affected.

'GPs are already doing a good job at reducing antibiotics prescribing, but it can’t be our responsibility alone – we need the public to understand that antibiotics are neither a cure nor an appropriate treatment for many minor self-limiting conditions and viral infections, and if a GP advises against antibiotics, they are doing their best for the patient’s own good, and that of wider society.'

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