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.’