Around 5,000 people in England die each year because antibiotics have become useless against some infectionsÂ Credit: John TaylorÂ
The numbers of GPs wrongly prescribing antibiotics has risen, even though fewer patients are now asking for the drugs, new figures show.
Antibiotics do not work against viruses like flu, but doctors have long argued that patients force them to prescribe pills, even when warned they are ineffective.
However a new survey of 1,000 doctors by research charity Nesta, has found that 76 per cent of GPs are still prescribing antibiotics when they are unsure if an infection is bacterial, up from 74 per cent in 2014.
In contrast the number of patients demanding pills fell during the same period from 40 per cent to 31 per cent.
Dr Clare Chandler, co-Director of the AMR (antimicrobial resistance) Centre at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, said: âThese results demonstrate that the use of antibiotics by GPs relates more to diagnostic uncertainty than direct demand from patients.
âGPs need support to manage this.âThree quarters of doctors are still handing out antibiotics when they are not sure about a diagnosisÂ Credit: Julian Claxton / Alamy Stock Photo
The new figures were released on the third anniversary of the Longitude Prize, which will reward Â£10 million to anyone who can come up with a simple test to distinguish between a viral and bacterial infection by 2019.
Around 5,000 people in England die each year because antibiotics have become useless against some infections and experts predict resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined within 30 years.
Under Nice guidelines doctors when presented with confusing conditions, such as upper respiratory infections, are encouraged to delay prescribing antibiotics until symptoms worsen.
But the researchers found more than three quarters of doctors were still âerring on the side of cautionâ when they were unsure of a diagnosis. Â
Some 37 per cent of GPs surveyed also said they have prescribed antibiotics for a viral infection when they know it would not treat the condition
Last month Public Health England (PHE) launched its âKeep Antibiotics Workingâ campaign, warning patients that taking drugs when they are not needed puts them at risk of a more severe or longer infections.
A new television advert features cartoon antibiotics singing: âEvery time you feel a bit under the weather, donât always think that we can make you better.â
However despite widespread campaigning, the new survey found that one quarter of people still believe that antibiotics can fight viral infections.
The survey also discovered that the numbers of patients going to A&E for antibiotics if their GP has refused to prescribe the pills has risen from 3 per cent to 8 per cent.
The government wants GPs to cut antibiotic prescribing by 50 per cent by 2020. Â
Professor Dame Sally Davies, Chief Medical Officer England, said: "Drug-resistant superbugs are already killing hundreds of thousands of people around the world, and this problem is only getting worse.
âThe world is taking notice, and huge strides have been made recentlyâbut tangible action has been far too slow to follow. We need to up the ante.â
Daniel Berman, Longitude Prize lead at Nesta, added: âThe unnecessary over-prescription of antibiotics is one of the major factors in the growth of resistant strains of bacteria.
âAcross the globe we need accurate diagnostic tools to maximise the chances that antibiotics are only used when medically necessary and that the right ones are selected.
âThe Longitude Prize now has 250 competitors worldwide all competing to find a cheap and effective diagnostic tool that can be used anywhere in the world to help stem the misuse and overuse of antibiotics.â