Success in NHS push to reduce avoidable antibiotic prescribing

Action to prevent a future health crisis caused by antimicrobial resistance has seen the number of antibiotics prescribed in primary care fall substantially last year.

The progress follows the introduction of financial incentives in April 2015 by NHS England working with Public Health England (PHE). Between April and December 2015, two million fewer prescriptions were dispensed compared to the same period in 2014 – a 7.9% reduction.

Safely reducing the amount of antibiotics prescribed to patients is an important part of work to tackle antimicrobial resistance.

Inappropriate and overuse of antibiotics are known drivers of resistance; reducing the amount of antibiotics consumed slows bacteria developing resistance to these vital drugs, and therefore helps prevent antibiotic resistant infections.

The data on prescribing shows:

  • Overall in 2015, antibiotic prescribing reduced by 5.3% compared to 2014 – a total of 2,166,489 fewer items.
  • Within this total there were 480,450 fewer ‘broad spectrum’ antibiotics, reducing the use of which not only helps tackle resistance, but also reduces the likelihood of healthcare-acquired infections like C. difficile, improving patient safety.

Duncan Selbie, Chief Executive of Public Health England, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a major threat to health in the UK and globally and taking action to combat it is vital.

“I am delighted to see the success of the NHS achieving such a significant reduction.

Dr Mike Durkin, NHS National Director of Patient Safety, said: “Antimicrobial resistance is a major threat to the delivery of healthcare across the globe, and these findings clearly show that NHS England’s incentive programme is an important step in the right direction. Healthcare staff across the country should be congratulated for this significant achievement

“However, there is a lot of work still to be done to preserve the effectiveness of these vital drugs. This will require the continued effort of both medical staff and patients to ensure antibiotics are only used and prescribed where appropriate, across all areas of healthcare.”

Work to tackle antimicrobial resistance requires a wide range of approaches and making use of alternatives to antibiotics and reducing our dependence on them is vital. This is why NHS England and PHE have worked to increase uptake of flu vaccinations among at-risk groups (in particular children).

Vaccinations make an important contribution to the fight against antimicrobial resistance as they both prevent infections in the first place and reduce the need for antibiotics. In the UK, our world-leading vaccination programme helps to protect the whole population against preventable infections.

PHE is also responsible for increasing both public and professional education around antimicrobial resistance and developed the Antibiotic Guardian campaign with partners. The campaign urges members of the public and healthcare professionals to take action in helping to slow antimicrobial resistance by making a pledge about how they can personally help conserve these vital medicines, ensuring they work now and in the future.

Alongside collective efforts to safely reduce levels of prescribing, PHE works closely with prescribers to raise awareness of conditions where antibiotics are vital and need to be prescribed, for example patients who present with sepsis.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer for England said: “Antibiotics are the cornerstone of modern medicine and we need to do all we can to preserve them. I am really pleased to see that, through a focus on prescribing of antibiotics, we have seen such a real reduction in their inappropriate use.

“Unnecessary use of antibiotics contributes to an increase in drug resistant infections and it is great to see that England is taking steps to address this.”


  1. Joshua Bickerstaff says:

    Is it the place of the NHS to comment on the overuse of antibiotics in animal agriculture?

    It is common knowledge that antibiotics are used preventatively in agriculture to circumvent predictable infection in animals living in unhealthy environments where bacteria thrive.

    Can the NHS not bring animal agriculture to the stand on this issue and call them out for their irresponsibility to humankind and disrepect for animals living in unclean conditions?

    In using antibiotics in this way, we effectively double the figures of antimicrobial resistant organisms, judging by the data in the article I post above. Animal farms should not be breeding grounds for deadly microbes and we should not have to sacrifice our medicine to fill the cafeteria.

    Will NHS England remain silent on this issue? Is there even a political mechanism for views to be aired on this without the NHS being seen as attempting to damage the agricultural sector?

    I feel that the abuse of antibiotics in the agricultural sector is a slap in the face to the rigtly stringent NHS.

    Please respond. Thank you.

  2. Issie tucker says:

    I am really pleased that you are making reference to immunisation. We cannot over emphasise all preventative measures ( hand hygiene and avoidance behaviours – i.e. safe tick removal) We need to instil this within the farming community – my task for this year!!

  3. Susan withers says:

    Non prescribing of long term antibiotics to Lyme disease patients is causing these patients to suffer unnecessarily. It’s a step too far in the wrong direction by the NHS in order to save money, not pain..

  4. M S Timbervine says:

    What an irony!!!
    Reduce antibiotic prescribing on the one hand, but then condone and promote the widespread and indiscriminate use of PrEP for prevention of transmission of HIV during condomless sexual intercourse – just in order to appease a highly vocal and articulate pressure group who wish to indulge their lifestyles but expect taxpayers to pick up the costs of the anti-retrovirals!!! – and has anyone considered how using PrEP will not prevent the spread of Sexually Transmitted Infections or Hepatitis B or hepatis C? – See NHS England News 21 Mar 2016