News story

Unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions reduced in new trial

Writing to GPs about use of antibiotics changes their prescribing patterns.

An image showing pills being poured into a hand

A trial involving over 1,500 GP practices found that writing to GPs about their antibiotics prescribing resulted in 73,000 fewer prescriptions (a 3.3% reduction) over 6 months. This equates to direct savings of over £92,000 in prescription costs.

This is part of the government’s plans to slow the growth of antimicrobial resistance. Increasing resistance to antibiotics and a lack of new drugs means there is a greater risk of infections that cannot be treated.

The trial was a collaboration between Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies, Public Health England, and the Behavioural Insights Team.

Professor Dame Sally Davies said:

We know that drug resistant infections are one of the biggest health threats we face. This innovative trial has shown effective and low cost ways to reduce unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics which is essential if we are to preserve these precious medicines and help to save modern medicine as we know it.

There were 2 groups involved in the trial, GPs and patients. GPs were sent a letter saying ‘80% of practices in your local area prescribe fewer antibiotics per head than yours’, and were provided with 3 ways to make sure any antibiotics prescriptions were necessary.

Patients were targeted with leaflets and posters about why reducing the use of antibiotics is important.

GPs who received the letter reduced their rate of antibiotic prescriptions to 127 per 1,000 compared to 131 per 1,000 by GPs who did not receive the letter. There was no significant difference in the rate of antibiotics prescriptions in the patient targeted group.

Read more about the trial in The Lancet article, Provision of social norm feedback to high prescribers of antibiotics in general practice: a pragmatic national randomised controlled trial.

Published 19 February 2016