Antibiotics prescribed to nearly half of all New Zealanders who visit a GP

Antibiotics prescribed to nearly half of all New Zealanders who visit a GP

Originally published on Stuff

Almost half of all New Zealanders who visit their GP walk out with a prescription for antibiotics. 

That's according to the Health Quality and Safety Commission's (HQSC) Atlas of Healthcare Variation, released on Tuesday. 

Forty-nine per cent of people who visited their GP in 2017 were dispensed at least one antibiotic – down slightly from 53 per cent in 2015.

Antibiotic resistance is a growing problem; a United Nations reportreleased this week touted it as a "global crisis". While New Zealand's prescribing rates are dropping, more can be done, experts say. 

HQSC, the government's health quality watchdog, found antibiotic use was highest in those aged 0-4 years old and those aged 85 and over living in aged residential care. 

In 2017, 65 per cent of 0-4 year olds and 70 per cent of those 85 and over living in aged residential care were dispensed antibiotics. 

It also found certain antibiotics were prescribed more in winter than in summer, with 60 per cent more antibiotics were dispensed in winter for children under four years old. 

Clinical lead for HQSC's infection prevention and control programme, Dr Sally Roberts, said this could show people were being prescribed antibiotics for cold and flu, presenting an opportunity to reduce use. 

Viruses cause 100 per cent of colds and flu, meaning they cannot be fixed with antibiotics. 

The data also highlighted the high prevalence of certain broad-spectrum antibiotics, such as amoxicillin.

Broad-spectrum antibiotics act against a wide range of disease-causing bacteria and are therefore a particular risk factor for antibiotic resistance, Roberts said. 

Roberts said the findings suggested the balance of under and over-prescribing of antibiotics in New Zealand needed to be better understood.

She encouraged health organisations and GPs to review the findings and "ask questions, such as 'does this pattern of prescribing seem appropriate?'" 

Misuse and overuse of antibiotics has led to many strains of bacteria that cause common infections - such as urinary tract infections, pneumonia and blood infections - now being resistant to commonly-used antibiotics. 

Antibiotic (antimicrobial) resistance occurs when bacteria change or mutate, so existing antibiotics no longer work to treat infections. 

Instead of being killed by the antibiotics, some bacteria survive and continue to multiply, causing more harm. 

Associate Professor Dr Mark Thomas, from the University of Auckland, said the message about antibiotic resistance may be being received in New Zealand "but it isn't leading to substantial changes in behaviour". 

New Zealand is a "high prescribing country", with antibiotic prescribing rates three times higher than that of the Netherlands, Thomas said. 

Everyone can make efforts to reduce their antibiotic use – whether that's consumption or prescribing, he said. 

The HSQC data did not include information on why the antibiotic was prescribed, so it is not known whether prescribing was appropriate or not. 

It also did not look at antibiotics dispensed over-the-counter, or antibiotics that were prescribed but not dispensed. 

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