Immediate measures must be taken to curb unnecessary
prescribing of antibiotics, said health experts after a new study found that
antibiotic prescriptions for coughs and colds increased by around 40% from 1999
Thirty-six per cent of patients were prescribed antibiotics
for coughs and colds in 1999 but by 2011 this figure had soared to 51%, study
stated. This is despite the fact that the Government issued guidance in 1998
advising GPs not to suggest antibiotics for simple coughs and colds.
Experts in the medical field from around the globe have
recently warned of the ever-growing threat of antibiotic resistance - which has
been fuelled by unnecessary prescribing of the drugs.
The new study, by experts at Public Health England
(PHE) and University College London
, also found there was 'substantial
variation' in prescribing among different GP surgeries. Researchers looked at more than 500 UK GP practices between
1999 and 2011 and found that some practices were twice as likely to provide a
prescription for coughs and colds as those who dished out the fewest.
In 2011, the best performing practices were providing around
32% of patients antibiotics for coughs and colds compared to 65% in the worst
performing GP surgeries. The research also found major variation in the
proportion of female patients aged 16 to 74 who were given one type of
antibiotics for urinary tract infections (UTIs).
During 2011, just 16% of these patients in some practices were
prescribed a short course of trimethoprim for a UTI while 70% of those affected
by the condition were given the drug in other parts of the country.
Lead author Professor Jeremy Hawker, a consultant
epidemiologist at PHE, said that the extensive variation between practices
showed significant scope to improve prescribing.
"Although it would be inappropriate to say that all
cases of coughs and colds or sore throats did not need antibiotics, our study
strongly suggests that there is a need to make improvements in antibiotic
prescribing. Previous research has shown that only 10% of sore throats
and 20% of acute sinusitis benefit from antibiotic treatment, but the
prescription rates we found were much higher than this.
The worry is that patients who receive antibiotics when they
are not needed run the risk of carrying antibiotic resistant bacteria in their
gut. If these bacteria go on to cause an infection, antibiotics will then not
work when the patient really does need them," Jeremy Hawker said.
The study was published in the Journal of Antimicrobial