NICE Director Calls for GPs Over-Prescribing Antibiotics to Face Disciplinary Action
A leading NHS figure says that doctors should face disciplinary action for prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily. As antibiotic resistance becomes an increasingly significant threat, experts are eager to reduce the number of antibiotic prescriptions, but are worried that “soft-touch” doctors are giving them out too frequently.
Mark Baker, director of clinical practice at the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), warns that the waning power of antibiotics “threatens the whole basis of modern medicine.” As rising numbers of infections become resistant to drugs, bacterial and fungal diseases become increasingly difficult to treat. If the effectiveness of antibiotics continues to decrease, long-forgotten infections could kill again, and procedures such as surgery and chemotherapy could be jeopardised.
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When doctors prescribe antibiotics for minor problems, such as colds and sore throats, this only increases the risk of resistance. Yet too many GPs continue to do so, prompting new guidance from NICE.
The latest guidelines call for more rigorous policing of antibiotic prescribing practice, with expert teams monitoring and comparing data from different hospitals and GP practices. They call for doctors to take into account the risk of antimicrobial resistance both for the patient and the wider population before issuing prescriptions, and also for them to take microbial samples from patients suspected of infections before signing a prescription. Many patients have serious misconceptions about antibiotics and drug-resistant bugs, and the guidelines emphasise how important it is for doctors to educate them and explain the risks.
Baker says that many patients are used to the idea that antibiotics will solve their health problems and pressure their doctors into prescribing them. The guidelines encourage doctors to tell patients when antibiotics are inappropriate and refuse to write prescriptions. Baker believes that over-prescribing doctors who do not change their habits should be dealt with by the General Medical Council because of their “hazardous practice.”
“We hope that by publishing these guidelines, it will become more difficult to prescribe antibiotics inappropriately,” he says. “Most doctors prescribe sensibly and competently. For the relatively small number who are less-disciplined, first we need to identify them, and secondly there needs to be processes to deal with them.”
A Department of Health spokesperson says: “Tackling the overuse of antibiotics is a global issue that affects everyone – government, patients, doctors, dentists and vets treating animals – not just GPs. In order to make sure we have effective antibiotics for generations to come, we are raising global awareness of the dangers of resistance to antibiotics and providing tools for GPs to support prescribing decisions.”