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Fears raised by surge in antibiotic scripts

A new surge in antibiotic prescriptions has sparked fears that the impact of high-profile warnings about resistance is fading.

Figures released by the Prescription Pricing Authority last week showed antibiotic prescriptions rose by half a million items in 2003 – taking levels back up to those seen in 2001.

Prescribing of antibiotics had fallen since the landmark Standing Medical Advisory Committee report in 1998 advised GPs to limit their use by avoiding antibiotics in simple coughs, colds and viral sore throats.

Professor Hugh McGavock, professor of prescribing science at the University of Ulster, said the rise was a 'worrying' trend. 'Only the minimum has been done since the House of Lords report on antimicrobial resistance in 1998. In the UK, nothing like enough statistics are being collected for antibiotic resistance.'

But Dr Mike Thomas, a GP in Minchinhampton, Gloucestershire, who has carried out research on antibiotic prescribing, said there was 'ongoing uncertainty' over what constitutes appropriate use and GPs faced a difficult balancing act.

News of the rise follows research in the BMJ (May 29) showing levels of antibiotic resistance – and the connection with prescribing – may have been underestimated.

Scottish researchers found that while antibiotic resistance did not correlate with prescribing rates at the practice level, patients who had taken antibiotics were more likely to have resistant bacteria in their urine.

By Rob Finch

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