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UK prescribed ‘unnecessarily long courses’ of antibiotics

A new study published in the BMJ has found that people are being prescribed unnecessarily long courses of antibiotics which may increase their risk of developing antibiotic resistant infections.

The study, ‘Duration of antibiotic treatment for common infections in English primary care: cross sectional analysis and comparison with guidelines’, looked at 931,015 English primary care consultations which took place between 2013 and 2015 and ended in an antibiotic prescription and found that of those people receiving antibiotics, the majority were prescribed a course that was longer than recommended in The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidance.

NICE reviewed the study and determined that the findings suggest that guidance on antibiotic use is not being implemented as well as it could be in all areas which may lead to antibiotic overuse.

The news comes shortly after NICE and Public Health England (PHE) jointly published antimicrobial prescribing guidelines for a range of common infection topics, which include recommendations on the choice, dosage and course length of antibiotics. The guidance also reminds prescribers use the shortest effective course.

The data from the study showed that specifically patients were spending an extra two days on antibiotics for bronchitis and four additional days for acute cystitis when compared with the duration advised within NICE guidance.

Dr Tessa Lewis, GP and chair of the managing common infections guidance committee said that the study provides an “insight into antibiotic prescribing in general practice. As a GP the decision about whether to prescribe an antibiotic can be complex, however deciding on the course length is usually more straightforward, especially for respiratory infections.”

She continued, “It can be a challenge keeping up to date with changing guidance, so this study is a reminder for prescribers to check their current practice. Course length is an important area for antimicrobial stewardship.”