GPs Have 'Worrying Dependence on Unnecessary Antibiotic Prescriptions'

Patient Safety Concerns Have Arisen Following The Publication Of Figures Showing Increased Use Of Antibiotics Over The Past Decade

06.08.2014

Dave Grimshaw, Press Officer | 0114 274 4397
Doctors in the UK are prescribing a worrying level of antibiotics to patients with minor conditions, leading to concerns surrounding patient safety, a new study has revealed.

An investigation into antibiotic use between 1999 and 2011 carried out by scientists at University College London and Public Health England shows that since the new millennium began, the number of such prescriptions given to patients with common colds and coughs has risen by 40 per cent. 

This is despite guidance from the Department of Health emerging in 1998 stating that drugs should not be used to treat minor infections for fear of medical resistance, which is the process where bacteria become immune to antibiotics, rendering them ineffective and putting the health of patients at serious risk.

Much media attention has been given to this issue recently, as just last month prime minister David Cameron warned that the UK could be "cast back into the dark ages of medicine" if excessive antibiotic prescriptions continue and no new drugs are developed in the near future.

Chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners Dr Maureen Baker commented: "Antibiotics are very effective drugs, as long as they are used appropriately, but we have developed a worrying reliance on them and GPs face enormous pressure to prescribe them, even for minor symptoms that will get better on their own or can be treated effectively with other forms of medication."

For instance, previous research has shown antibiotics effectively cure sore throats in just ten per cent of cases.

However, the study - which analysed prescriptions distributed by GPs from 500 UK surgeries - found 51 per cent of patients with slight coughs and colds were given antibiotics in 2011, indicating a significant increase from the 36 per cent recorded in 1999.

While ear infections are also classed as a minor condition, ten per cent of medical practices were prescribing drugs to treat these in at least 97 per cent of cases.

The results of the study have been published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy.

Expert Opinion
The over prescription of antibiotics highlighted in this study is troubling, as the practice goes against guidance from the Department of Health, and could lead to infections becoming resistant to medications typically prescribed to cure them. It is vital patient care is a top priority for GPs and this means not prescribing drugs for conditions that do not require them.

“It is important improvements are made to the way antibiotic prescriptions are given to patients, including educating both medical professionals and patients themselves of the risks associated with improper use of antibiotics and how they should be used responsibly.”
Mandy Luckman, Partner