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England's antibiotic use is down, but antibiotic-resistant infections still spreading, report warns

Published on 01/11/19 at 12:01pm

A new report has revealed that GPs in England are writing fewer prescriptions for antibiotics, but this has done little to halt the spread of antibiotic-resistant infections.

According to the English surveillance programme for antimicrobial utilisation and resistance (ESPAUR) report, published by Public Health England (PHE), antibiotic prescriptions have fallen by 17% over the past five years, but infections caused by overuse of these drugs continued to increase by 9% to almost 61,000 cases between 2017 and 2018.

The report follows increasingly intensified debate over the topic which has placed the issue of antimicrobial resistance as one of the foremost threats to public health. When overprescribed or taken inappropriately, bacteria can become resistant to antibiotics, presenting a critical issue in conditions such as sepsis or meningitis where such drugs are essential, and elevating minor procedures such as surgeries to a potentially life-threatening risk.

While the progress is promising, efforts need to be ramped up and more needs to be done. The report found that, while total antibiotic consumption has been in decline since its 20-year peak in 2014, antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections – potentially the most serious kind of infection – had increased by a third between 2014 and 2018.

“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," explained PHE’s Dr Susan Hopkins. “We want the public to join us in tackling antibiotic resistance by listening to your GP, pharmacist or nurse's advice and only taking antibiotics when necessary.”

“Taking antibiotics when you don't need them is not a harmless act – it can have grave consequences for you and your family's health, now and in the future,” she added.

Matt Fellows

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