GPs with a higher workload are more likely to prescribe antibiotics, according to a new study from Public Health England and the University of Manchester.
Researchers set out to understand the influential factors in primary care antibiotic prescribing and found that GP workload significantly affected prescription rates.
The study analysed anonymised data from 20m GP consultations across 690 GP practices in the UK, between 2000 and 2015.
The researchers saw that 50% of the variation in prescribing rates between practices could be explained by differences in the incidence of common infections such as respiratory tract infections and UTIs.
However, practice location, duration of GP consultation and number of GPs per thousand consultations also accounted for 40% of the variation in prescription rates.
Higher workload equals higher antibiotic prescribing
The team noted that in busier practices – where there was a higher workload, fewer GPs per thousand consultations, or where the length of the consultation was shorter – antibiotic prescribing was higher.
PHE health protection consultant Dr William Welfare said: ‘We know that public demand for antibiotics puts pressure on GPs and we launched the Keep Antibiotics Working campaign to raise awareness of appropriate antibiotic use and to encourage behavioural change among the public.
‘PHE are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care, NHS England and other health stakeholders to achieve the UK government ambition to reduce inappropriate antibiotic prescribing by 50% by 2020.’
Lead researcher Professor Tjeerd van Staa said: ‘In order to tackle antibiotic resistance, it’s crucial that we gain a better understanding of the key factors that influence antibiotic prescribing and that identify patients at higher risk of developing infection related complications.’
This comes after the latest figures found that antibiotic prescribing across primary care dropped by 13% over the last five years, with GPs being the main driver behind the drop.
Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) spokesperson Dr Conor Jamieson said: ‘The results of the research are probably unsurprising, and are reflected in other research published earlier this year in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, that suggest that high consultation rates are a major driver in antibiotic prescribing in primary care.
‘There are likely to be a number of factors at play, including the influence of co-morbidities and socio-economic deprivation. These surgeries will see more people with repeated infections and illnesses, which will require antibiotics. Rates of prescribing in GP surgeries have reduced and could be reduced further through encouraging patients who present with minor illnesses to self-care with the advice and support of their pharmacist, rather than expect a prescription.’
A version of this article first appeared in our sister publication Pulse