Objectives: To measure trends in antibiotic prescribing in UK primary care in relation to nationally recommended best practice.
Patients and methods: A descriptive study linking individual patient data on diagnosis and prescription in a large primary care database, covering 537 UK general practices during 1995-2011.
Results: The proportion of cough/cold episodes for which antibiotics were prescribed decreased from 47% in 1995 to 36% in 1999, before increasing to 51% in 2011. There was marked variation by primary care practice in 2011 [10th-90th percentile range (TNPR) 32%-65%]. Antibiotic prescribing for sore throats fell from 77% in 1995 to 62% in 1999 and then stayed broadly stable (TNPR 45%-78%). Where antibiotics were prescribed for sore throat, recommended antibiotics were used in 69% of cases in 2011 (64% in 1995). The use of recommended short-course trimethoprim for urinary tract infection (UTI) in women aged 16-74 years increased from 8% in 1995 to 50% in 2011; however, a quarter of practices prescribed short courses in ≤16% of episodes in 2011. For otitis media, 85% of prescriptions were for recommended antibiotics in 2011, increasing from 77% in 1995. All these changes in annual prescribing were highly statistically significant (P < 0.001).
Conclusions: The implementation of national guidelines in UK primary care has had mixed success, with prescribing for coughs/colds, both in total and as a proportion of consultations, now being greater than before recommendations were made to reduce it. Extensive variation by practice suggests that there is significant scope to improve prescribing, particularly for coughs/colds and for UTIs.
Keywords: antibiotic prescribing; otitis media; primary care; respiratory tract infections; surveillance trends; urinary tract infections.
© Crown copyright 2014.