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GPs buried under trusts' workload dump

Hunt urges GPs to benchmark themselves against others on antibiotic prescribing

An online tool comparing GP practices on their antibiotics prescribing has been hailed by health secretary Jeremy Hunt as a ‘new weapon’ to help GPs stop giving out the drugs needlessly.

Mr Hunt said the new ‘fingertips’ tool published on the Public Health England website will give GPs ‘the power to see the latest data on how many antibiotics their peers are prescribing’.

He added: ‘I want to see antibiotics being prescribing only when necessary and hope this will be a new weapon to help GPs cut the numbers of antibiotics needlessly being given out’.

The tool gives data at CCG and GP practice level on total use of antibiotics and broad spectrum antibiotics, as well as other outcomes relating to antimicrobial resistance including infection control.

It is the latest in a series of such ‘fingertips’ tools to benchmark CCG and GP practice performance on various clinical metrics that have been enshrined in the NHS Mandate.

It comes after official prescribing data showed GPs have continued to cut the amount of antibiotics they prescribe, with a 5% overall cut in prescribing rates last year, which NHS chiefs attributed to the introduction of CCG performance targets.

Another scheme where the chief medical officer (CMO) Professor Dame Sally Davies sent individual GPs personal letters has been used to cut antibiotic use at practices with particularly high prescribing rates.

Dame Sally said the new online tool would mean ‘GPs can now compare their prescribing patterns which will hopefully encourage people to think whether antibiotics are really needed’.

However RCGP chair Dr Maureen Baker said GPs were already ‘working very hard to reduce antibiotics prescribing’ and that ‘recent figures have shown that our efforts have been successful’.

She said the data ‘must not used as a stick to beat GPs with if, for example, one practice is prescribing more than a neighbouring one, which could be for very good reasons’.

Dr Baker added: ‘Public perception needs to change – our patients need to understand that when diseases become resistant to antibiotics, it means that antibiotics will cease to work and as it stands, we don’t have an alternative.’ 

Readers' comments (35)

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  • Is this column a forum for informed debate or infantile invective?
    Not seen the new tool,but benchmarking for eg antibiotics has been available for years.
    As a former CCG Exec member with responsibility for Medicines Management I can assure readers that such tools are useful in identifying significant outliers.It is then possible to determine whether this prescribing pattern is appropriate (eg high prevalence of COPD)or not.
    We must prescribe for patients' needs, not their wants.Education of patients may be a challenge, but the corollary (submitting to whatever they want) is a certain recipe for ever increasing workload, and a generation doomed by multi-resistant bacteria.

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  • ROBIN JACKSON - So fund CRP testing in practices to support us in the fight.

    This is a rather blunt instrument adding little value. If you expect it to be welcomed when NICE guidance (of all places!) shows a more intelligent approach, then I think that's a little naive.

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  • I would agree with Robin Jackson about funding for CRP testing. When I suggested it all the usual excuses are churned out of "we don't have the budget" "that's someone else's responsibility" "don't have time" etc etc. In the 21st Century we should be using every tool available to help determine if antibiotics are needed with near patient testing. As a medical student 30years ago I did my GP placement in a rural practice where the GP did his own gram staining as the local lab was so far away. There needs to be joined up thinking about how to tackle this problem and stop passing the buck and the blame.

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  • NICE don't even recommend procalcitonin in the NHS. How is the CRP (or PV, ESR or, for that matter, ferritin) even relevant in identifying a bacterial infection? This a tired, re-heated debate that does the rounds cyclically. Until we have a test that is practical and economical all of this debate is pointless but I'm sure it will be doing the rounds again soon enough.

    Going back to the point of this story... namely the latest noises coming from the Right Honourable Secretary of State for Health, one can enthusiastically lap this up as an opportunity for lively debate. On the other hand, some may suggest that this is another soundbite coming from a bungling politician who has little real interest in promoting health. It depends on your perspective.

    I know where I stand.

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