UK GPs face a tough choice – over-prescribe or receive less money

Over-prescribing of antibiotics is a serious risk to the effectiveness of modern medicine.  This fact is well known.  But UK General Practitioners (GPs) face a tough choice – if they prescribe fewer antibiotics, they risk getting a worse satisfaction rating from patients.  And this one of the factors used to calculate their pay.


According to a new study from King’s College, patients are generally less satisfied with Doctors that follow the antibiotic prescription guidance than those who continue to over-prescribe. 


The most important influences on satisfaction ratings were whether patients felt they had been listened to and carefully examined. However, the study also showed a significant drop in satisfaction with those who prescribed 25% fewer antibiotics than their colleagues.


This is worrying, given that another study last year showed that up to half of all antibiotic prescriptions could be inappropriate – given for conditions that are not effectively treated with the drugs.


If my GP surgery is anything to go by, they go out of their way to explain the limitations of antibiotics to anxious patients. The waiting room is plastered with notices explaining that there really isn’t a pill for all ills.


So why do patients still demand antibiotics for things like colds – and feel let down when they don’t receive them?


We certainly live in a quick fix society – where every problem seems to have a solution, given the right amount of money.


I suspect part of the reason lies in a mistrust of the doctors’ motivation – are they refusing to prescribe an antibiotic just to save the beleaguered NHS some money?


Another factor could be our attitude to illnesses we consider “minor”.  Any illness that does not require medical intervention is viewed as trivial – it therefore follows that receiving antibiotics gives some form of validation for sickness.


“I was so ill that I needed antibiotics.”


Clearly something needs to change – but this may not be as easy as it seems.


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