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Doctors urged to become 'cleverer' in use of antibiotics

Photo: PA

Doctors must become cleverer when prescribing antibiotics if the recent increase in drug-resistant infections is to be turned round, health officials have warned.

Public Health England (PHE) called for a "culture change" from doctors and hospitals after a report found a 12% rise in the number of e-coli infections which resisted antibiotic medication.

Both American President Barack Obama and David Cameron have made fighting antibiotic resistance a top priority, with the Prime Minister saying it threatened to send medicine "back into the dark ages".

Credit: Anthony Devlin/PA Wire

GPs' prescription figures will be made public from April next year to increase local accountability after the discovery of a north/south divide in the number of pills handed out.

Dr Susan Hopkins, one of the co-authors of the report, said it was vital to get doctors to reduce their use of antibiotics over the next five years.

Antibiotics should no longer be prescribed for "self-limiting" conditions, like minor coughs and colds, that do not need them, she said.

Doctors who over prescribe antibiotics risk sending medicine Credit: PA

Hospitals should also limit the use of broad-spectrum antibiotics to the seriously ill and become more savvy about using targeted drugs once based on a patient's diagnosis.

The report focused on bloodstream infections, like septicaemia, and found:

  • There was a 6% increase in prescriptions taking the amount from 25.9 daily doses per 1,000 people to 27.4 per 1,000.
  • About one in 25 "bugs" that cause bloodstream infections - septicaemia - are resistant to at least one key antibiotic ingredient.
  • In the same period the amount of antibiotics prescribed by GPs for infections rose 4%, with the highest amount prescribed by doctors in the Durham, Darlington and Tees areas of the North East.
Different strains of Ecoli, or EHEC bacteria, which is becoming resistant to antibiotics. Credit: REUTERS/Fabian Bimmer

UK-wide figures released by PHE and University College London in August revealed that 36% of patients were given antibiotics for coughs and colds in 1999 but by 2011 this figure had soared to 51%.

We know that less than 1% of bacteria are extremely multi-drug resistant at the moment, that means resistant to pretty much all the antibiotics we have available to us. So it's very rare. But in countries like India they are approaching 10% - 20% of individuals where they are not able to treat effectively with the antibiotics they have available.

We need to understand that if we don't stop the prescribing for a potential infection that is self-limiting, if we don't reduce our ... broad-spectrum prescribing and keep it narrow and defined, then that may be the situation we will be in.

– Dr Susan Hopkins