Growing use of antibiotics leading to increasing numbers of infections proving resistant to them, experts say
Doctors must stop prescribing so many antibiotics to patients because overuse is leading to increasing numbers of serious infections proving resistant to them, public health experts say.
The amount of antibiotics handed out by hospital doctors rose by 12% and by GPs by 4% between 2010 and 2013, producing a 6% rise overall, despite growing fears that overeager prescribing risks the drugs no longer being able to be relied upon in many routine operations.
Prescriptions issued in the community, for example by dentists, rose by 32% over the same four years. Public Health England (PHE), which produced the figures, said antibiotic use had to be cut to 2010 levels and "inappropriate prescribing" had to stop.
It said increasing prescription of antibiotics was leading directly to a rise in the number of potentially life-threatening bloodstream infections that were hard to treat.
As prescription of the drugs has risen, so "the increasing number of E.coli bloodstream infections has seen a corresponding increase in levels of resistance to a number of key antibiotics", PHE said.
The highest rates of resistance in England were seen in places where the largest amounts of antibiotics were prescribed. Doctors in the north of England prescribe more than colleagues in the south, though that may be due to poorer health linked to deprivation, higher smoking rates and other factors, PHE said.
"Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest threats of our time", said Professor Anthony Kessel, PHE's director of international health. He urged health professionals and care providers to cut down their use in order to "help save these vital medicines from becoming obselete".
Dr Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, said family doctors needed to do more to help curb growing antimicrobial resistance. "But GPs face enormous pressure to prescribe antibiotics, even for minor symptoms which will get better on their own or can be treated effectively with other forms of medication," she said.
There was a 6% rise in antibiotics prescriptions between 2010 and 2013. Photograph: Doug Steley/Alamy