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Antibiotic prescribing figures jump despite warnings

GP prescribing of antibiotics to children has jumped in the last five years, despite a series of directives to limit their use, UK researchers say.

Between 2003 and 2006 there was a 10% increase in antibiotic prescribing in the UK, reversing previous downward trends, a study of GP patient data shows.

There was also a sharp increase in labelling of infections as non-specific, suggesting GPs were avoiding a definite diagnosis to circumvent guidelines on antibiotic use, the researchers said.

Over the course of the study, there was a 48% decline in prescribing for tonsillitis/pharyngitis and a 46% drop in prescribing for otitis media, but a fourfold rise for non-specific upper respiratory tract infections.

Study author Dr Mike Sharland, consultant in paediatric infectious diseases at St George's Hospital, said the findings raised concern recent GPs might take little notice of recent NICE guidelines restricting antibiotics for upper respiratory tract infections.

‘The fall we found between 1996 and 2000 was an international trend but now we're seeing it go up again and we don't really know why.

‘One issue driving this is the fear of complications but since we introduced the pneumococcal vaccine, the chance of children having severe bacterial infections is even lower than it was before.'

Dr Ian Williamson, senior lecturer in primary medical care at the University of Southampton and a GP in the city said: ‘The idea this is a labelling shift into diagnostic murky territory to avoid a transparent breach of guidelines may contain more than a grain of truth.'

The analysis of 1.4m antibiotic prescriptions in 340,000 children was published online by Archives of Diseases in Childhood.

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