Despite initiatives to reduce the number of prescriptions for antibiotics in England a rise is being recorded in the country’s most deprived areas.

The gap between prescriptions in the least and most deprived areas of England is widening, with a substantial 20% difference between the bottom and top 1%, finds new research by Antibiotic Research UK and Exasol.

In Greater London, doctors dish out 21% fewer antibiotics than the North, and the most deprived coastal towns in Lincolnshire, Norfolk and Essex are prescribing the most antibiotics in the country, with Clacton-on-Sea, the UK’s most deprived area, almost twice the national average.

It was also found that doctors prescribe 59% more antibiotics in December than they do in August, even though many of the illnesses treated by antibiotics are not seasonal. While a small spike is to be expected, the difference seen is “far too high”, says Professor Colin Garner of Antibiotic Research UK.

“One explanation is that patients are requesting antibiotics from their GPs for simple coughs and colds and GPs are acceding to these requests despite the advice they have been given not to prescribe antibiotics for viral conditions such as these,” he said.

On the plus side, Maureen Baker, chair of the Royal College of GPs, says the findings show “the lowest antibiotics prescribing rates in five years - and a huge drop from when prescribing peaked in 2012”, which indicates that healthcare professionals across the UK are trying to address the issue of antimicrobial resistance - a threat that Prime Minister David Cameron has warned could take us “back to the dark ages”. 

Concerning trend

The trend shown by the report - particularly the link to deprivation - is concerning, she stressed. But “this could quite legitimately be because people in high areas of deprivation present more frequently with conditions, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, that need antibiotics - it is not necessarily indicative of inappropriate prescribing”.

Experts fear that, by 2050, antimicrobial resistance will be the cause of $100 trillion in lost productivity and ten million deaths every year, if overuse and the lack of new treatments aren’t addressed.  

"We all have a responsibility to reduce antibiotics prescribing even further and curb resistance to what are excellent and life-saving drugs when prescribed appropriately,” but “ultimately we need more investment in new drugs - we haven't seen a new strain of antibiotic in over 25 years - so that we do have an arsenal of medication that will be able to treat emerging and future diseases, and keep our patients safe,” said Dr Baker.