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GPs can dramatically cut their consultation rates for acute respiratory infections by lowering their prescribing rates for antibiotics, according to a new study.

Researchers found GPs who nearly always prescribed antibiotics for respiratory infections had almost 10 times as many consultations for the conditions as more cautious prescribers.

There was a 'strong correlation' between rates of antibiotic prescribing and consultation rates.

The study, presented at the annual scientific meeting of the Society for Academic Primary Care in Gateshead this week, analysed data on 640,000 patients from 108 practices in the UK general practice research database.

There was a wide variation in rates of antibiotic prescribing for acute respiratory infections, from 98 per cent of patients in some practices to 45 per cent in others.

In practices with the lowest prescribing rates, the study found an annual consultation rate of 125 per 1,000 registered patients. In practices with the highest prescribing rates, there were an average of 1,110 consultations per 1,000 patients.

Dr Mark Ashworth, a senior lecturer at the department of general practice and primary care at King's College London, who presented the paper, said a GP with an average list size of 2,000 in the lowest prescribing group would have 250 consultations a year for acute respiratory infections.

Those in the highest prescribing group would have 2,200 consultations.

The research also found practices that cut their antibiotic prescribing over the study period between 1995 and 2000 also cut their consultation rate.

Dr Ashworth, a GP in Kennington, south London, told Pulse: 'If as a GP you reduce your antibiotic prescribing for respiratory infections you will reap your rewards with your patients coming less frequently the next time they get something similar.

'If you prescribe antibiotics for a patient with a respiratory infection you greatly increase their chances of coming again and expecting antibiotics. At it's most extreme you are talking about freeing up some 2,000 appointments.'

Dr Ashworth added: 'Current rates of antibiotic prescribing still appear too

high.'

By Nerys Hairon

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