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GPs praised for 'dramatic' cut in antibiotic prescriptions

GPs in England have "dramatically" reduced the number of antibiotics they give to patients, latest figures show.

NHS Improvement says prescriptions for all types of antibiotic were down by more than 2.6 million on the previous year to about 34 million in 2015-16.

They say it is a "fantastic result" and shows doctors are being careful not to over-prescribe them.

It is part of a wider drive to stop harmful infections developing resistance to antibiotics.

In the UK, the largest chunk of antibiotic prescribing - 80% - occurs outside of hospital.

And half of these prescriptions are to treat chest infections.

Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections.

There is no point in giving them if the cause of illness is a virus, such as the flu.

Antibiotic guardians

The government has offered a financial incentive to get GPs to cut down on their prescribing.

Clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) get a Quality Premium payment if family doctors hit the target.

Analysis: Nick Triggle, health correspondent

The figures are impressive. But that should come as no surprise. There have been growing concerns about the use of antibiotics as the report last week by Lord Jim O'Neill demonstrated.

But this success is also down to money. GPs have been paid to reduce their use of antibiotics.

Local health bosses were given extra money by NHS England to get prescribing down and they have used this to incentivise doctors. Different arrangements were made in different areas, but some GP practices received in excess of £20,000 for hitting the targets. Next year the targets have been extended to 4% for overall use and 20% for broad spectrum antibiotics.

In the NHS money, it seems, talks - but if it helps tackle what experts have described as a "greater threat than cancer" nobody will be complaining.

Reducing unnecessary prescribing saves the NHS money in drug costs.

The figures show GPs have overshot the targets.

The target reduction for all types of antibiotic had been set at 1%, but the actual reduction was about 7%.

Prescriptions for broad-spectrum antibiotics - drugs that should be reserved for tackling the most serious, hard-to-treat bacterial infections - went down by 16%, from 3.9 million prescriptions in 2014-15 to 3.3 million the following year.

The target had been a 10% reduction.

Dr Mike Durkin, from NHS Improvement, said: "This [is a] fantastic result achieved in just one year."

He said they would continue to work to bring the figures down further.

Pushy patients

"Every year, too many people suffer and lose their lives due to antibiotic-resistant infections," he said.

"At a time when the NHS has advanced in many areas of patient care, science and technology, we must work to prevent healthcare going backwards to a time where antibiotics are no longer fighting infections.

"This is why efforts in the NHS to reduce the overprescribing of antibiotics are crucial, and these latest figures are a significant step forward in this fight."

Dr Maureen Baker, of the Royal College of GPs, said doctors faced pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics, but that it was their duty to say no sometimes.

"We need to continue to work together to make the public realise that prescribing antibiotics is not always the answer to treating minor, self-limiting illness," she said.

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