NHS Behind the Headlines – Reduced antibiotic prescribing did not raise serious infection rates

NHS Choices. Published online: July 7 2016

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“Surgeries that handed out the fewest pills do not have higher rates of serious illnesses,” the Daily Mail reports.

A new study looked at the impact of prescribing patterns of antibiotics by GPs. The researchers were particularly interested in seeing what happened in practices where GP’s did not usually prescribe antibiotics for what are known as self-limiting respiratory tract infections (RTIs).

This cohort study aimed to determine whether the incidence of some diseases was higher in general practices that prescribe fewer antibiotics for self-limiting respiratory tract infections (RTIs).

It found that alongside reductions in the rate of antibiotics prescribed, rates of incidence for peritonsillar abscesses, mastoiditis and meningitis declined. Pneumonia showed a slight increase and no clear change was observed for empyema and intracranial abscesses.

The study had a good sample size, and represented the UK population well in terms of age and sex. However, there are a few points to note:

  • As the researchers acknowledged, the study observed outcomes from a population perspective and therefore was unable to deal with variations in prescription at the individual doctor or patient level.
  • This study only looked at data collected from GP surgeries, and prescription and infection incidence rates may be higher in emergency departments or out-of-hours practices which this study was not able to capture.
  • Finally, due to its study design, these findings can’t confirm cause and effect. It is possible that unmeasured confounders influenced the reported associations.

The researchers hope these findings will potentially be used in the context of wider communication strategies to promote and support the appropriate use of antibiotics by GPs.

Patients can also help by not pressuring GPs for antibiotics “just in case” they may need them.

Read the full analysis here

Read the original research article here

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