The number of antibiotic prescriptions by GPs in England has fallen by 5.6% since 2012 following national efforts to slow the spread of bacterial resistance.
Prescribing peaked at almost 0.68 items per head of population in the year to July 2012, a total of 37.9 million prescriptions, but fell to under 0.64 per head by 2015.
In March 2013, Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England,
warned that antimicrobial resistance posed a “catastrophic threat”
to modern medicine. Later that year, the UK government launched a five-year plan to slow the spread of resistance.
This latest analysis was produced by the charity Antibiotic Research UK and analytics company Exasol using NHS data from August 2010 to July 2015.
It shows a large divide in prescribing rates between regions. GPs in Greater London prescribe 21% fewer antibiotics than doctors in the north of England, while doctors prescribe 59% more antibiotics in December than August even though many of the indicated illnesses are not seasonal.
Colin Garner, chief executive of Antibiotic Research UK, says: “Colds and flu sometimes lead to bacterial infections due to suppressed immune systems so we would expect a minor increase in antibiotic prescription in the winter months, however, the data show a 59% jump in four months and this is far too high.”
Practices in the UK’s most deprived area – Clacton-on-Sea, Essex – prescribed 20% more antibiotics than those in the most affluent regions.
Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, says the link between prescribing rates and deprivation is “concerning” but may be legitimate if GPs are prescribing for conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which presents more commonly in areas of higher deprivation.