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GPs admit to wrongly prescribing antibiotics

Published on 20/08/14 at 02:40pm
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Nearly half of British GPs surveyed have admitted to prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily due to uncertainty and a lack of diagnostic tools.

The survey arose from the Longitude Prize, a £10 million fund designed to solve scientific challenges which from June had the focus set on a way to prevent the rise of antibiotics resistance – and within five years.

Ahead of accepting entries this autumn the prize survey quizzed UK GPs on their prescribing practices. Compiling 1,004 responses showed that 28% of them advised antibiotics ‘several times a week’, even when they were not sure they were medically necessary.

Nearly three-quarters did so because they were not sure whether it was a bacterial or viral infection, with almost a quarter (24%) of the GPs blaming a lack of easy-to-use diagnostic tools.

Just short of half (45%) of the doctors surveyed admitted to prescribing them for a viral infection, even when they knew it wouldn’t treat the condition. Interestingly, this was highest amongst GPs that qualified before 1980, showing that this is not just a problem for newly-qualified doctors.

Despite 90% of respondents saying they felt pressure from patients to prescribe medication, only 6% of patients surveyed said they would push their doctors for the drugs.

Dr Rosemary Leonard, who is the resident GP for BBC Breakfast news, says she understood the pressure felt by GPs but "the more antibiotics taken, the more resistant bacteria come to them. Antibiotic resistance is a real issue and more needs to be done conserve antibiotics for the future.”

Last month UK prime minister David Cameron warned that the world was facing a ‘medical dark ages’ where treatable injuries and infections were going to kill again.

He promised the UK was to become a world leader in tackling the threat, and launched an independent review into why so few new anti-microbial drugs have been introduced in recent years.

In the UK over 50 million antibacterial drugs were dispensed in the community in 2013, but no new class of antibiotic has come to market for 25 years.

Tamar Gosh, who leads the Longitude Prize, says: “In the next five years, the Longitude Prize aims to find a cheap and effective diagnostic tool that can be used anywhere in the world.

“We recognise that stemming the misuse and overuse of antibiotics is just one piece of the jigsaw to slow bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Nevertheless it's an important step when we could be waiting many years for other solutions, including novel alternatives to antibiotics coming to the market.”

Emily MacKenzie


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