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General Practitioners (GPs) say ‘poor diagnostics and pushy patients’ mean antibiotics are prescribed even when they’re not medically necessary, a new survey of over 1000 GPs for Longitude Prize has found.

The survey shows that over a quarter (28 per cent) of GPs surveyed prescribe antibiotics “several times a week” even when they’re not sure they’re medically necessary; 90 per cent say they feel pressure from patients to prescribe; 70 per cent say they do so because they’re not sure whether it’s a viral or bacterial infection; and 24 per cent say it’s because there is a lack of easy-to-use diagnostic tools.

In June the public voted for antibiotics to be the focus of the £10 million Longitude Prize, adding to the growing call to prevent the overuse and incorrect use of antibiotics, as bacterial resistance increases to them. The development of antibiotics has added an average of 20 years to our lives2, but no new class of antibiotics has come to market in 25 years3. In the UK over 50 million antibacterial items were dispensed in the community in 20134. Britain’s chief medical officer, Sally Davies, has said antimicrobial resistance poses a “catastrophic threat. If we don’t act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can’t be treated by antibiotics.”

The Longitude Prize has set the challenge to create a cost-effective, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use test for bacterial infections that will help health professionals worldwide to administer the right antibiotics at the right time.

Although antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, nearly half of the GPs surveyed said they have prescribed them for a viral infection when they know it won’t treat the condition (45 per cent); this is highest amongst GPs who qualified before 1980 (55 per cent).

Dr Rosemary Leonard said: “These results show the pressure GPs face to prescribe antibiotics when they aren’t necessary, something I understand very well.  

“The more antibiotics taken, the more resistant bacteria come to them. Antibiotic resistance is a real issue and more needs to be done conserve antibiotics for the future. Diagnostics play a valuable role in making this happen. Not only can diagnostics help determine the type of infection someone has, they could gather valuable data and aid the global surveillance efforts.”

Tamar Ghosh who leads Longitude Prize, explains, “Across the globe we need accurate point-of-care diagnostic tools to maximise the chances that antibiotics are only used when medically necessary and that the right ones are selected to treat the condition. In the next five years, the Longitude Prize aims to find a cheap and effective diagnostic tool that can be used anywhere in the world.

“We recognise that stemming the misuse and overuse of antibiotics is just one piece of the jigsaw to slow bacterial resistance to antibiotics. Nevertheless it’s an important step when we could be waiting many years for other solutions, including novel alternatives to antibiotics coming to the market.”

Despite GPs feeling pressure from patients to prescribe antibiotics, 78 per cent of UK adults surveyed5 said they trust their GP to diagnose their condition accurately and only a handful (6 per cent) said they would push their GPs to give them antibiotics. 

In the autumn the Longitude Prize will open for entries and the race will begin to develop a rapid, accurate, affordable, point-of-care method for diagnosing bacterial infections on a global scale.

For more information on the Longitude Prize visit: www.longitudeprize.org

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Notes to editors

For media inquiries and requests please contact Christine Crowther at Nesta: [email protected] / 0796 957 4626

 

1.       MedeConnect conducted a regionally representative online omnibus survey of GPs across the UK on behalf of Longitude Prize 2014. 1004 responded to the survey from between the 16th and 24th July 2014. MedeConnect is the market research division of Doctors.net.uk

2.       Source: World Health Organisation

3.        Source: The Wellcome Trust

4.       This figure was made by adding community pharmacy dispensed items from BNF section 5.01 for each of the individual countries making up the UK for 2013

Country

Total figure

Source

Wales

2,823,044

Welsh Government

England

41,617,596

Health and Social Care Information Centre

Northern Ireland

1,925,726

Business Services Organisation

Scotland

4,459,493

ISD Scotland

 

5.       Populus interviewed a random sample of 1,074 UK adults aged 18+ from its online panel between 6th - 7th August 2014.  Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.  Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Further information at www.populus.co.uk.

 

About Longitude Prize 2014

Longitude Prize 2014 has been developed and run by Nesta.  It was launched by the Prime Minister at G8 2013 and is being supported by the Technology Strategy Board as launch funding partner.   Longitude Prize 2014 is a £10 million prize fund. The British public voted for antibiotic resistance to be the focus of the Longitude Prize 2014. Full prize criteria will be available from autumn 2014, when the challenge is open for entry. The Prize commemorates the 300th anniversary of the Longitude Act (1714) when the British government threw down the gauntlet to solve one of the great scientific challenges of that century: how to pinpoint a ship’s location at sea by knowing its longitude.

Keep informed by following Longitude Prize 2014 on Twitter @Longitude_prize and using the hashtag #LongitudePrize, liking on Facebook/longitudeprize and signing up to the newsletter at www.longitudeprize.org.