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Research reveals antibiotic prescriptions are rising in the most deprived areas

12 November 2015  •  Author: Victoria White

Research from EXASOL and Antibiotic Research UK has revealed that while antibiotic prescriptions are coming down across England, struggling GP practices in the most deprived parts of the country are prescribing 20% more and, worryingly, antibiotic prescriptions are on the increase in these deprived areas.

antibiotic-prescriptions

EXASOL analysed five years of data released by the UK Government’s Health and Social Care Information Centre and sourced from the NHS Business Services Authority. The data reveals antibiotic prescribing hotspots and interesting correlations against areas of deprivation. It also shows seasonal variation in antibiotic prescribing.

Sean Jackson, chief marketing officer, EXASOL says: “Awareness of antibiotics overuse is critical. With the right data and the right technology, you can turn any problem into a data problem and uncover information to help address it. We worked with Antibiotic Research UK to find information that is useful in their quest to reduce antibiotic use and find new antibiotics in the fight against the superbug. To analyze such enormous data-sets fast, returning answers from the data within seconds, requires the right tool and we hope the findings help to further reduce this serious issue.”

The analysis found that antibiotic prescriptions per head peaked in 2012 with a total of 3.8 million prescriptions to patients in England, but have dropped by 5.6% since. Doctors also prescribe 59% more antibiotics in December than they do in August, despite the fact that illnesses treated by antibiotics are not seasonal.

Professor Colin Garner of Antibiotic Research UK commented: “It is true that colds and flus sometimes lead to bacterial infections due to suppressed immune systems and so we would expect a minor increase in antibiotic prescription in the winter months, however the data shows us a 59% jump in four months and this is far too high. One explanation is that patients are requesting antibiotics from their GPs for simple coughs and colds and GPs are acceding to these requests despite the advice they have been given not to prescribe antibiotics for this condition.”

London doctors prescribe 21% fewer antibiotics than those in the North

The research also showed that the gap between prescriptions in the least and most deprived areas of England is widening and the difference in prescribing between the bottom and top 1% by deprivation is 20%. London doctors were found to prescribe 21% fewer antibiotics than the North. The data also reveals that the most deprived coastal towns in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Essex are prescribing the most antibiotics in the country, with Clacton-on-Sea, the UK’s most deprived area, almost twice the national average

Professor Colin Garner, chief executive of Antibiotic Research UK Says: “Londoners and the Thames Valley region have the best access to healthcare and are also on average younger and healthier than the rest of the country. However, we would not expect to see such a large variation in prescriptions around the country. If we look at the detailed heat map it shows hotspots of antibiotic prescription, more generally around areas of deprivation.”

Responding to the data, Dr Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said, “The trends shown today – particularly the link to deprivation – is concerning.

“This could quite legitimately be because people in high areas of deprivation present more frequently with conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, that need antibiotics – it is not necessarily indicative of inappropriate prescribing.

“GPs often face pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics, particularly during winter months when more people are feeling ill, so the national significant drop in prescribing is positive and shows that the work the College and others are doing to support appropriate prescribing and urge healthcare professionals to say ‘no’ is taking effect.”

Commenting on the use of antibiotics, Dr Baker added, “Ultimately we need more investment in new drugs – we haven’t seen a new strain of antibiotic in over 25 years – so that we do have an arsenal of medication that will be able to treat emerging and future diseases, and keep our patients safe.

“But this won’t happen overnight and in the meantime, we need to work together to make the public realise that prescribing antibiotics is not always the answer to treating minor, self-limiting illness.”

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