Concerns are growing regarding the potential of viruses developing which are resistant to antibiotics, and David Cameron has thus taken action in order to address the problem.
The Prime Minister has asked doctors working in the NHS to reduced the inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics by 50% within the next four years.
This announcement from Cameron comes as world leaders gathered to discuss how to tackle the global problem of antimicrobial resistance at the G7 summit in Japan.
Already there have been reports of a virus in the United States which has been shown to have achieved antibiotic immunity.
Despite the concerns on the subject, the Department of Health has been unable to put a precise figure on how many prescriptions would be considered inappropriate.
Thus, there is no definite target for GP prescriptions, but it should be said that the number of patients taking antibiotics needs to be reduced considerably.
However, figures already available on this subject suggest that producing the figure by 50% could be considered overkill.
Media reports have suggested that approximately 10% of antibiotic prescriptions are unavoidable, with common complaints such as coughs and colds frequently receiving the medicinal treatment.
Eliminating the prescriptions would mean that GPs could prescribe 1.7 million fewer antibiotics each year by the end of the decade, but Cameron’s 50% figure looks to be rather unrealistic.
Yet GPs have also been praised for cutting down total antibiotic use by 7% – or 2.6m fewer prescriptions – over the past year.
Already a quality premium scheme has been put in place, which effectively rewards Clinical Commissioning Groups for hitting targets related to the reduction of both broad-spectrum and overall usage of antibiotics.
While this scheme has been successful, evidence has also indicated that doctors were beginning to reduce the prescription of antibiotics prior to its introduction.
Public health minister Jane Ellison has suggested that the target set by David Cameron will help doctors maintain momentum in this area, while the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt commented that the figure will “further reinforce for the international community just how serious we are about tackling antimicrobial resistance”.
But others are more sceptical. The chair of the Royal College of general practitioners, Dr Maureen Baker, has suggested that setting arbitrary targets for general practice is completely misguided, and could result in ultimately dangerous outcomes.
“We would advise caution at introducing arbitrary targets that might not take into consideration the diverse and changing needs of our patients, and could simply be used as a stick to beat hard-working GPs with further down the line.”