GP prescribing of antibiotics fell 17.3% between 2014 and 2018, the newly released PHE figures show. With the majority of antibiotic prescribing taking place in primary care, the reduction has lowered overall NHS use by 9%, despite a rise in prescribing in hospitals and other community settings.
The number of antibiotic items prescribed in primary care as a whole fell from just over two per 1,000 population per day in 2014 to 1.7 in 2018, representing a 16.7% reduction.
The number of defined daily doses (DDDs) per item rose, however, to 8.5 DDDs per item per 1,000 inhabitants per day in 2018, which was 5.3% higher than the 8.1 in 2014.
PHE said this showed that less antibiotics have been prescribed on average and the higher number of DDDs is 'likely related to the higher dose or duration'.
The number of bloodstream infections rose by 15,000 from 2014 to 2018, an increase of 21%, and the number of antibiotic-resistant bloodstream infections rose by 4100, a 32% increase.
Antimicrobial resistance lead for PHE Dr Susan Hopkins said: 'It’s worrying that more infections are becoming resistant to these life-saving medicines and we must act now to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them.
'We have seen positive steps taken to reduce antibiotic use without affecting people’s recovery when they are unwell and GPs should be congratulated in their ongoing work to reduce unnecessary antibiotic use.'
RCGP chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard told GPonline: 'Antibiotics can be lifesaving drugs but when bacteria become resistant to them – as they increasingly are – they will cease to work, and in many cases we will then have no viable therapeutic alternative, which could be disastrous for the patients affected.
'GPs are already doing a good job at reducing antibiotics prescribing, but it can’t be our responsibility alone – we need the public to understand that antibiotics are neither a cure nor an appropriate treatment for many minor self-limiting conditions and viral infections, and if a GP advises against antibiotics, they are doing their best for the patient’s own good, and that of wider society.'