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20% antibiotics are inappropriately prescribed, says PHE

20% antibiotics are inappropriately prescribed, says PHE

More than 20% of antibiotics are inappropriately prescribed, new Public Health England (PHE) research has revealed.
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More than 20% of antibiotics are inappropriately prescribed, new Public Health England (PHE) research has revealed.

Researchers at PHE found that at least 20% of antibiotics are not prescribed appropriately in primary care in England.

In a study published in five articles in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, they identified between 8.8% and 23.1% of all systematic antibiotic prescriptions inappropriate.

Not always necessary

The PHE team said that ‘most antibiotics are prescribed for conditions that only sometimes require antibiotic treatment.

They continued: ‘Inappropriate antibiotic prescribing predominantly occurs in conditions that are often self-limiting and only sometimes caused by bacteria, such as urinary tract and acute respiratory tract infections (RTIs).

‘These conditions are among the most common reasons for consultation in UK primary care, but prescribers generally lack the point-of-care testing necessary to reliably determine the aetiology of infection in such patients.’

According to the report, there was no clinical justification for prescribing in 31% of all antibiotic prescriptions.

Patients rarely benefit from antibiotics in acute cough, acute rhinosinusitis and acute bronchitis. Respectively, only 10%, 11% and 13% of these patients should receive antibiotics, the researchers said.

Decreasing prescriptions

In 2015, around 39 million antimicrobials and antibiotics were prescribed by GPs in England, a 5% decrease compared to the previous year, according to official figures.

According to PHE, ‘antibiotics are by far the most widely prescribed antimicrobial agents’.

But the experts argue that the effectiveness of antibiotics is threatened by increasing antimicrobial resistance, as the more they are used, the less effective they become.

Society’s role

Responding to the findings, Royal College of GPs (RCGP) chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said that the whole of society must play its part in tackling antimicrobial resistance’.

She added: ‘Responsibility for tackling this does not lie solely at the door of GPs.

‘If GPs do prescribe antibiotics, it is because, in their expert opinion, they are the most appropriate treatment available, given the unique circumstances of the patients before us.

‘However, we are still coming under considerable pressure from some patients who need to understand that antibiotics are not a 'catch all' for every illness.

‘Antibiotics are excellent drugs when used appropriately, and for many bacterial infections there is no alternative.’

The Government aims to halve inappropriate antibiotic prescription in humans by 2020.

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