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GPs feel under pressure to prescribe antibiotics

GPs feel pressure to prescribe antibiotics and sometimes prescribe them even when they do not feel it is necessary, a survey has revealed.

The survey of 1,000 GPs found 90% of respondents felt pressure from patients to prescribe them antibiotics, while over a quarter – 28% – said they prescribe them several times a week when they are unsure they are medically necessary.

The survey was commissioned by charity Nesta for the £10 million Longitude Prize – after the public voted for the prize to be focused on antibiotic use and the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.

Nearly half – 45% – of the GPs surveyed said they had prescribed antibiotics for a viral infection, knowing it would not be effective. But 70% of GPs also said they sometimes prescribed them because of doubts about whether an infection was viral or bacterial, with 24% citing a lack of easy-to-use diagnostic tools.

Dr Rosemary Leonard, a GP in London, said: ‘These results show the pressure GPs face to prescribe antibiotics when they aren’t necessary, something I understand very well.’ 

‘The more antibiotics taken, the more resistant bacteria come to them. Antibiotic resistance is a real issue and more needs to be done conserve antibiotics for the future. Diagnostics play a valuable role in making this happen. Not only can diagnostics help determine the type of infection someone has, they could gather valuable data and aid the global surveillance efforts.’

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Readers' comments (9)

  • Well this is what happens when you turn medicine into a popularly contest.

    All of this is as a direct result of giving undue prominence to nonsense complaints and the consumerist nature of healthcare - HMG I'm looking at you.

    It will get worse with the F+F test.

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  • I think this is a good example of the unintended damage done by revalidation. We are now so terrified of bad feedback we have little choice but to respond to patients demands or else face the very real prospect of loosing our careers. Even our leaders describe a climate of fear.

    Incidentally the press recently reported a large increase in complaints against doctors since these so called safety measures were brought in!

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  • Grow a pair, people!

    There's enough evidence out there to back us up. Who the hell doesn't get complaints these days anyway? Ssuck it up and don't let the whingey ******* grind you down.

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  • This comment has been moderated.

  • 5:12pm

    You are missing the point. People can still complain regardless of if their complaint is valid or not. As the revalidation, FF test, NHS choices, iwantgreatcare.co.uk etc are not interested in the validity of the complaint, what matter is that a complaint has been made. Hence, it is safer (in terms of above popularity contest) to just nod and give AB.

    Of course this leads to bad practice but clearly government is not interested in sound medical care.

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  • Complaints or not, frankly we should be prescribing antibiotics on clinical grounds only.
    If we worry patients will complain if they do not get antibiotics we may as well yield to every patient request (including unnecessary sick notes, landlord notes etc).
    As long as you can clinically justify not giving antibiotics, there is no reason to give in to patients on this very important issue. It is about clinical competence and patient safety.

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  • I'm with 5.12 on this really. 90% feel pressure. fine, that's ok, but you don't always need to cave to the pressure if you think unnecessary. The idea that we are too frightened of complaints, NHS choices comments etc. is a bit wet. Have some faith in your clinical assessment, and don't worry about spurious complaints about not having received abx as they will amount to nothing

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  • Its the 'Hospital Test' where you think its a viral infection, but they go to A&E and see a 'Proper Dr' who is just out of nappies and tells them they needed antibiotics, so they think you were wrong and misdiagnosed what they perceive to have been a 'serious chest infection'.

    They then plaster the social media with slanderous claims, sorry NHS choices, and it ends up like that poor chap who was suing the Daily Mail.

    Its not the spurious ones you need to worry about - unfortunately once in while you might actually get it wrong and they end up actually sick and needing antibiotics - then the revalidation team will be right up your alley way asking how did you possibly miss that 'Zebra' grazing in the field outside!

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  • The goverment (and our leaders)has changed the climate we are surrounded with with its dictat.The majority of us are practicing more defensively.There are increasing use of just in case antibiotics we will be increasingly refering inapprpiate cancer refereals,cost will climb, thanks for the emasculation guysWhat you reap what you sow.

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  • So who cares if you are popular or not? What are they going to do, get rid of you? It's not like we're awash with GPs at the moment.
    Use clinical judgement. Don't let them take our self respect away as well as everything else.

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