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Financial incentives effective at reducing antibiotic prescribing

New figures show antibiotic prescriptions by GPs for common respiratory infections fell by 3% following the introduction of a national incentive scheme.

Public Health England (PHE) has worked with Imperial College London to assess the impact of the Quality Premium on the rate of antibiotic prescribing, the result of which has been published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. The results show that the number of patients prescribed antibiotics by their GP for common respiratory infections, for which antibiotics are generally not needed, decreased by 3% following the introduction of the national incentive scheme.

Taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts people at risk of a more severe or longer infection in the future as antibiotics may not work when they are really needed.

In England, respiratory tract infections, which include coughs, colds and sore throats, are one of the most common reasons for a visit to the GP, with many patients being prescribed antibiotics. However, the majority of respiratory tract infections are caused by viruses in which case antibiotics don’t actually work as they only attack bacteria. For most patients pain and other symptoms can be effectively reduced using drugs such as paracetamol and the infection will generally clear up without further treatment.

Professor Alan Johnson, Head of Surveillance HCAI and AMR at Public Health England, said:

As part of a national strategy to tackle antibiotic resistance, this is one of a range of successful interventions used to support GPs to reduce levels of prescribing. It is important that we continue to reduce the levels of inappropriate prescribing if we are to prevent further increases in drug-resistant infections.

The NHS England Quality Premium scheme was introduced to reward clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) for improving their services. It offers financial incentives to CCGs – which decide how funding is spent on health services in their area – for meeting a number of criteria. In 2015 to 2016 this included measures to reduce total antibiotic prescribing by 1%, as well as 10% reduction in prescriptions for broad spectrum antibiotics, used to tackle a range of bacterial infections.

The research was supported by the National Institute for Health Research.

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