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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 13:39 GMT 14:39 UK
Children given fewer antibiotics
Few GPs now prescribe for coughs and colds now
GPs have cut back on the number of medicines they prescribe for children, a study reveals.

Researchers at St George's Hospital in London found GPs wrote 6.5m prescriptions for children in 2002. This compares to 12.4m scripts in 1993.

Speaking at a Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health meeting in York, they said GPs were heeding warnings on overprescribing.

Overuse of antibiotics has been linked to the growth in drug resistance.

'Antibiotic crisis'

Leading experts have been warning that the UK is facing an antibiotics crisis unless prescribing is brought under control.

Last year, Professor Hugh McGavock from the University of Ulster warned that "gross overprescribing" is making many antibiotics useless.

GPs are taking the advice on board
Dr Helen Kendall
He warned that all antibiotics could be redundant within 12 years unless changes are made.

This latest study suggests GPs are taking these warnings on board.

The researchers found doctors have cut back significantly on the number of prescriptions they write for common antibiotics.

Prescriptions for drugs like amoxicillin, penicillin and erythromycin fell by around half while ampicillin and co-trimoxazole prescribing fell by over 95%.

"Doctors are not prescribing for simple coughs and colds and they probably were doing so," Dr Helen Kendall, one of the researchers, told BBC News Online.

"But there is also some evidence that the number of people with respiratory infections has fallen and that some bugs are not as virulent as they once were.

"It might also be that people are not going to doctors as much. Patient education has worked and many people with coughs and colds don't go to their doctor now."

But she said the big change was in GPs' attitudes to antibiotic resistance. "GPs are taking the advice on board."

Dr Jim Kennedy of the Royal College of GPs welcomed the figures. But he said there were many reasons for the drop, including a fall in the under 16 population and the increased availability of stronger medicines without a prescription.

Nevertheless, he said doctors and patients were now much more aware of the dangers associated with overprescribing.

"There is no doubt that the public and doctors have taken on board the long campaign around antibiotics.

"The type of consultation one has with patients is very different now compared to 10 years ago.

"Patients accept that they don't always need a prescription."

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