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GPs hand out antibiotics as placebo to patients, claim MPs

Action needed now to reduce reliance on antibiotics, says report

Adrian O'Dowd

Monday, 07 July 2014

Some GPs prescribe antibiotics to insistent patients to placate them or as a placebo, according to parliamentary report published today.

MPs on the House of Commons science and technology committee warned that urgent action was needed to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistance due to overuse.

Although the MPs’ report, based on their recent inquiry into ensuring access to working antimicrobials, welcomed last week’s announcement of a government-commissioned review of the economics of antimicrobial research, it said this only addressed one aspect of antimicrobial resistance.

Action was needed now to tackle the problem, which the MPs described as “one of the greatest risks to modern medicine faced by this generation”.

The report says: “For too long, antibiotics have been used as if they were a bottomless pit of cure-all miracle treatments.”

However, they were ineffective against viruses and other diseases that were not caused by bacteria and unnecessary prescription of them had speeded up antibiotic resistance.

Andrew Miller, chair of the committee, said: “Antibiotic resistance cannot be entirely prevented, but it is a problem made worse by inappropriate use and poor stewardship of antibiotics in healthcare and farming.

“We heard concerns, for instance, that antibiotics are often prescribed by GPs simply to achieve a placebo effect or placate patients with distressing symptoms.”

Current practice in health and veterinary services was failing to prevent inappropriate prescription of antibiotics, said the MPs, and there was a need for better education of medical students and greater focus on antimicrobial resistance during clinical career development.

“It is vital that the government takes action to ensure that antibiotic prescribing is founded on good diagnoses,” says the report, which calls for cheap, rapid and accurate diagnostic tests as well as better clinical training.

Mr Miller added: “We’re pleased that the prime minister has taken the opportunity just ahead of our report launch to reaffirm his commitment to action on antibiotic resistance, but publishing strategies and announcing reviews is not the same as dealing with the problem.

“A two year review of the incentives needed to develop new antibiotics may lead to necessary action, but what we really need from government right now is decisive and urgent action to prevent antibiotics from being given to people and animals who do not need them.”

The report also recommends:

  • no delays to the government working on pricing alternatives that could be agreed with the drug industry to encourage more focus on this issue
  • a system for monitoring post-prescription behaviour of patients who have been prescribed a course of antibiotics to see if they took all the drugs properly and their impact
  • better public awareness of this issue to reduce pressure from patients on practitioners to prescribe them antibiotics

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