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Health chiefs considering putting antibiotic prescribing targets into GP contract

Exclusive Public health officials are in talks with NHS England about the possibility of introducing targets to cut antibiotic prescribing into the GP contract and publishing individual GP antibiotic prescribing rates, Pulse can reveal.

The move comes as a new report into antimicrobial resistance and antibiotic use from Public Health England (PHE) shows there was actually a 3.5% drop in the total number of antibiotics prescribed by GPs between 2012 and 2013 – compared with around a 3.5% increase in hospitals.

PHE chiefs said the recent drop in GP antibiotic prescribing was encouraging but that more needed to be done to make sure the trend continued and to reduce wide variation in prescribing between practices in different areas – which they say corresponds with antibiotic resistance levels.

They plan to make GP practice-level data on antibiotic prescribing publicly available on the PHE website from next April, with a view to publishing individual GP prescribing data as well as hospital data in the future.

In addition, PHE and NHS England are exploring ‘contractual arrangements’ to performance-manage antimicrobial stewardship, including ‘potentially’ introducing targets in the GP contract, they told Pulse.

This comes as the Government is focusing on prescribing rates, with warnings from the UK’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies and the prime minister that the current attitude to prescribing could cast the world back to a ‘dark age of medicine’.

Only this week, Pulse reported that the CQC is considering publishing individual practices’ data on GP prescribing of antibiotics and benzodiazepines, in a move GP leaders describe as ‘dangerous and simplistic’.

The PHE report – the English surveillance programme for antimicrobial utilisation and resistance (ESPAUR) – brings together community and hospital data on prescribing and antibiotic resistance for the first time, as part of the wider Government strategy for tackling antimicrobial resistance.

It shows:

  • There was an overall 4.1% increase in total antibiotic prescribing by GPs over the four-year period between 2010 and 2013, but there has been a drop of 3.5% from 2012 to 2013;
  • By comparison, antibiotic prescriptions to hospital inpatients increased steadily by 3.5% year-on-year, with a much bigger 12% rise seen over the same period;
  • Total prescriptions from other services in the community – which included walk-in centres and dentists – rocketed by 32%;
  • GP antibiotic prescriptions were highest in the north-east, where they were 40% higher than in London.

PHE leaders stressed some variation across the country could simply be down to the way patients access healthcare – with more patients attending hospitals instead of GP practices in London, where hospital prescribing levels were highest nationally.

But they said areas with the highest antibiotic prescribing rates were also those with the highest levels of antibiotic resistance, as evidenced by rates of antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections.

Professor Anthony Kessel, director of international public health at PHE, and a former GP, told Pulse cutting antibiotic use in the highest-prescribing areas should therefore bring down resistance – and publishing the data would be the first step to making sure doctors and local health leaders could be held to account on how they go about this.

Professor Kessel said: ‘It makes sense to try and drive down the total amount of prescribing, especially in areas where it’s particularly high, because we will anticipate seeing a fall in resistance as a result.’

He added: ‘This is the start - our intention is to make this data available more frequently than annually, and at practice – even ultimately, although we can’t get there yet – individual practitioner, prescriber level.’

PHE is looking at increasing education and peer support to change prescribers’ practice, which includes refining the TARGET toolkit on the RCGP website, and new NICE antimicrobial stewardship guidelines coming out next year.

Professor Kessel added: ‘There will be new mechanisms, especially through work we’re doing with NHS England, around holding local health economies to account through contract arrangements and so forth.’

Asked if these mechanisms would include measures introduced into the GP contract, Professor Kessel said: ‘Potentially, yes.’

Dr Richard Vautrey, GPC deputy chair and a GP in Leeds, said the report showed GPs were already the most responsible NHS prescribers, and dismissed the idea of introducing targets for antibiotic prescribing into the GP contract.

Dr Vautrey said: ‘These figures suggest GPs are really working hard to try and address this issue and others have got to catch up with them. It’s something we’re very aware of and GPs particularly have had a focus on their prescribing for a generation – and that’s probably why we are doing that bit better than in other areas.’

He added: ‘I don’t think it would be a good idea [to put this in the GP contract]. I think we want to move away from those sorts of targets. We know what our professional and prescribing responsibilities are, I don’t think targets would be particularly helpful.’

Public Health England - ESPAUR Report 2014

>>>> Clinical Newswire

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Readers' comments (36)

  • Is there no limit to this Stalinist micromanaging bureaucratic time wasting b******* if we have not been trying to do this for years.
    The claptrap that continues to come from idiot penpushers simply beggars belief and is now surreal.
    Previously I thought they came from Pluto now it seems they get their ideas from some alien galaxy.
    Primary care doctors from any other country would be astonished at the bizarre kafkaesque totalitarian lunacy of the health bureaucracy in the UK

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  • Sure, why not? Go a head. After all seeing as CQC already has same agenda, we might as well do this now rather then wait for GPC to tell us how bravely they fought in the contract negotiations and won nuff all, but still a historic victory in their eyes.

    I'll refuse to prescribe any rescue packs and will refer any patient that might need AB to AED for assessment, even for a simple UTI. Secondary care can prescribe it then. My stats would be fantastic at the expense of swamped AED.

    Or these simpletons at PHE can learn quality in medicine isn't as simple as low AB prescribing and leave us alone. Seriously, do these guys ever look up from their excel files and think about what they are saying?

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  • Could there be a correlation between reduced antibiotic prescribing in general practice and increased prescribing in hospitals and elsewhere.
    Clearly there is a perception somewhere that these people need them... Maybe the patients know they will not get them from their gP so they go elsewhere, or maybe they just need them and become more ill, needing hospital treatment.
    It seems bizarre to target the group of doctors who are reducing prescribing and not those who are increasing it..

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  • Once again GPs are being blamed for something way beyond their control.

    The reality is the population is ageing and government is pushing hospital work into primary care. Areas of deprivation like the de-industrialised northern cities have more health inequalities to contend with. It's no great surprise that older and sicker people need more antibiotics to keep them out of hospital.

    Government leadership has been very weak on antimicrobial resistance with little or no public campaigning on the issue, lax security on imported resistance from foods where antibiotics are used in growth promotion and carving up the NHS by the Health and Social Care Act so we cannot integrate strategies to target resistance.

    It is time the government took their share of responsibility for this threat.

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  • Took Early Retirement

    Cut antibiotic use- watch the death rate rise.

    And I can see the headlines now: "My wife died of pneumonia so the DOCTOR could trouser more money"


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  • Again GP's must not look at this as an honest dialogue.

    This is a either lazy science or something more sinister( i.e GP's being set up to be blamed and then used as an excuse for other 'reform').

    A public health offical on radio 4 this morning talking abt inc antibioitc prescribing between 2010 and 2013. No mention if this was an increase per 1000 patients or just raw figures. She appeared happy to talk about 'levers' to change behaviour.
    Typical BBC but there was no analysis, no questions about why - how much is primary or secondary care initiated? How has complaints and defence fees had an impact? How many people are self prescribing from antibiotics bought in from elsewhere?
    after all any honest conversation about antibiotics would raise above issues.

    Unless you see this for what it is - part of a campaign of hostility then you Gp land will be destroyed further.

    Quite easy to fight back though, LMC to ask sec care to do their own antibiotic prescribing? maybe time to ask pt to opt out using patient records for 'personal safety reasons!'

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  • "Total prescriptions from other services in the community – which included walk-in centres and dentists – rocketed by 32%"
    Hmm, lets target the GP`s then , who have dropped their prescribing.

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  • When Jeremy Hunt says in primary care he wants patients to decide the treatments they want as they know best. How does he see antibiotic prescribing int his aspect? Or the way that inappropriate pressure and demands from patients will cripple the limited money available for services.

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  • Well, interesting since the OOH Abx prescribing went up by 35% since 2010 while GP Abx prescription decreased. However its the GP`s fault again!
    However OOH is mostly run by Care UK and other private firms who pay the Tories coffers so they won`t get any penalities.

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