Health commissioners back bid to curb antibiotic prescriptions in Suffolk

GPs are being recommended to cut back on antibiotic prescriptions

GPs are being recommended to cut back on antibiotic prescriptions - Credit: Archant

Health commissioners in west Suffolk have backed new measures to tackle the growing threat of antibiotic resistance after it emerged the area has one of the highest prescription rates in England.

Doctors operating under the West Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group in 2014 prescribed antibiotics at a rate of 77,878 items (antibiotics) per 100,000 of the population, which was the 33rd highest figure of all 213 CCGs in the country.

The figures, produced by the Health and Social Care information Centre, show that prior to 2014, when statistics were collated by the now disbanded primary care trusts, Suffolk’s GPs were prescribing at a lower rate than the national average.

The switch to clinical commissioning groups saw west Suffolk’s rate shoot up the tables, while East Suffolk and Ipswich, with a rate of 63,723 items per 100,000 of the population, dropped further below the national average of 69,586.

The National Institute for Health Care Excellence (NICE) this week published draft medicines practice guidelines to promote sensible use of antimicrobials, including antibiotics, to preserve their future effectiveness in treating infections.

These drugs have been the main method of treating infections for more than 60 years.

But while new infectious diseases are diagnosed on almost a yearly basis, very few antibiotics have been developed to keep pace.

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National figures also show that the overall prescription of antibiotics has been steadily increasing.

NICE is aiming to counter that trend by encouraging health care commissioners, providers and prescribers to promote and monitor more sensible use.

Professor Alastair Hay, chairman of the committee which developed the guideline, said: “The more we use antibiotics, the less effective they become as diseases evolve and become resistant to existing antimicrobial medicines.

“Resistance to all antimicrobials is increasing and, combined with a lack of new antimicrobial medicines, there is a heightened risk in the future that we may not be able to treat infections effectively.”

Both CCGs in Suffolk say they support GPs to prescribe antibiotics only when there is a “clear clinical benefit” in doing so.

A spokesman for the groups said the guidance from NICE highlighted the main principles of prescribing antibiotics.

“The CCGs monitor the prescribing of antibiotics on a monthly basis,” he added.

“National studies show that bacteria is becoming increasingly resistant to antibiotics, and there is a common misconception that new antibiotics are being developed all the time.

“In fact, this process is very limited, and the more antibiotics we use the more resistant bacteria will become.

“The CCGs are continuing their health campaigns so that patients are informed and understand the limitations of antibiotics.”

Central Suffolk and North Ipswich MP Dan Poulter, who is also a health minister and qualified doctor, said the problem over inappropriate prescription often arose because patients expected to be prescribed medicine when they visited their doctor.

“Doctors need to be having conversations with these patients, and sometimes it can be a difficult conversation to have, explaining that antibiotics are not going to make any difference if they are suffering from a virus,” he added.

“When this happens the rate of prescription will go down.

“It’s something I know has been happening in the east of the county following some good work with Ipswich Hospital and strong collaboration between GP surgeries, particularly with older patients and children.”