New research by Public Health England (PHE) revealed that at least 20% of the total antibiotics prescriptions written in primary care in England are inappropriate.
PHE estimates that in order to reach the UK goal of 50% decrease in inappropriate prescribing levels by 2020, current prescriptions of antibiotics across the country have to be cut down by 10%.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt warned that such practices are fuelling antibacterial resistance, which could result in more deaths per year compared to cancer.
Hunt said: “Drug-resistant infections are one of the biggest threats to modern medicine and inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics is only exacerbating this problem.
“Since 2012, antibiotics prescribing in England is down by 5% and we’ve invested more than £615m at home and abroad in research, development and surveillance.
“But we need to go further and faster otherwise we risk a world where superbugs kill more people a year than cancer and routine operations become too dangerous.”
The study found that most antibiotic prescriptions in primary care targeted respiratory and urinary tract infections, while one third of the total prescriptions did not have any documented clinical reason.
It further showed a significant variation in prescribing rates between GP practices, and that for the majority of conditions, ‘substantially higher proportions’ of consultations led to an antibiotic prescription not considered appropriate.
For example, antibiotics were prescribed in 41% of uncomplicated acute cough cases even though experts advocated only 10%. A similar trend was observed with bronchitis, sore throat and rhinosinusitis.
Based on the statistics, PHE calls for improved diagnostic coding, prescribing guidelines and insights into appropriate long-term uses of antibiotics to further minimise the prescribing levels.