"Surgeries that handed out the fewest pills do not have higher rates of serious illnesses," the Daily Mail reports.
A new study looked at the impact of prescribing patterns of antibiotics by GPs. The researchers were particularly interested in seeing what happened in practices where GP's did not usually prescribe antibiotics for what are known as self-limiting respiratory tract infections (RTIs).
RTIs include coughs, colds, and throat and chest infections that normally get better by themselves. Using antibiotics to treat these types of infection is not recommended as it can contribute to the growing problem of antibiotic resistance.
Researchers wanted to look at two main outcomes:
Researchers assessed prescribing patterns and RTI incidence rates in more than 4 million patients across 630 GP practices in the UK. They found that reduced prescribing did not necessarily put patients at any greater risk of RTIs, or serious complications, except for a very small increase in pneumonia (0.4% yearly).
The researchers hope that findings from this study will help raise awareness about the importance to public health of only using antibiotics when necessary.
Giving a patient antibiotics for a cold or cough, just to reassure them, rather than meeting a clear clinical need, should be a thing of the past.
The study was carried out by researchers from King's College London, the University of Southampton, University of Bristol and The Health Centre, Oxford. It was funded by the UK National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment programme initiative on antimicrobial drug resistance.
The Daily Mail's coverage of this study was generally accurate, giving a balanced report on the study and its potential implications.
This was a cohort study which aimed to determine whether the incidence of some diseases was higher in general practices that prescribe fewer antibiotics for self-limiting respiratory tract infections (RTIs).
Cohort studies are able to suggest a potential link between exposure and outcome but, on their own, can't confirm cause and effect. It is possible that other factors influenced the incidence of respiratory diseases observed in this study.
The researchers used data from the UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD), which contains records from about 7% of general practices nationwide. The database is considered to be broadly representative of the UK population.
Data from 2005-2014 was analysed which allowed for a cohort of 4.5 million registered patients. The study evaluated the number of first episodes of the following respiratory tract infections:
The researchers also evaluated the rates of RTI consultations and antibiotic prescribing per 1,000 patients, and the proportion of RTI consultations with antibiotics prescribed. This data was used to investigate the association between antibiotic prescribing rate and antibiotic prescribing proportion with rates of infective complications.
Overall, from 2005-2014 the results showed that reductions in the rate of antibiotics prescribed were not necessarily linked to any greater risk of respiratory infection apart from pneumonia.
The researchers concluded: "Antibiotic prescribing for RTIs might expect a slight increase in the incidence of treatable pneumonia and peritonsillar abscess. No increase is likely in mastoiditis, empyema, bacterial meningitis, intracranial abscess, or Lemierre's syndrome.
"Even a substantial reduction in antibiotic prescribing was predicted to be associated with only a small increase in numbers of cases observed overall, but caution might be required in subgroups at higher risk of pneumonia."
This cohort study aimed to determine whether the incidence of some diseases was higher in general practices that prescribe fewer antibiotics for self-limiting respiratory tract infections (RTIs).
It found that alongside reductions in the rate of antibiotics prescribed, rates of incidence for peritonsillar abscesses, mastoiditis and meningitis declined. Pneumonia showed a slight increase and no clear change was observed for empyema and intracranial abscesses.
The study had a good sample size, and represented the UK population well in terms of age and sex. However, there are a few points to note:
The researchers hope these findings will potentially be used in the context of wider communication strategies to promote and support the appropriate use of antibiotics by GPs.
Patients can also help by not pressuring GPs for antibiotics "just in case" they may need them.
Read more about how we can all help combat the threat of antibiotic resistance.