The use of complementary and alternative medicines (CAM) in primary care may help significantly reduce the prescribing of antibiotics, according to new research published in BMJ Open. Health experts have identified the overprescribing of antibiotics as a leading cause of antimicrobial resistance, which has become one of the main threats to public health. In the UK, 74% of antibiotics are prescribed in primary care and the NHS is seeking ways to cut their use.
Researchers led by the University of Bristol collected data from over 7,000 GP surgeries and compared it with nine surgeries where the GPs integrated CAM in their daily practice. Analysis showed that practices that employed GPs with additional training in complementary therapies, such as homeopathy and herbal medicine, prescribed 22% fewer antibiotics. As well as looking at the general prescribing of antibiotics, the study also covered the use of these drugs in the treatment of respiratory and urinary tract infections (RTIs and UTIs). Prescribing antibiotics for patients with RTIs was found to be lower at practices where the doctors were trained in CAM. However, there was no difference between the two types of practice when it came to the level of antibiotic prescribing for patients with UTIs.
Nevertheless, the overall results do suggest GPs trained in complementary medicine can cut antibiotic use and have the potential of making huge savings for the NHS.
Greg White, Faculty of Homeopathy chief executive, said the study’s results were in line with the Faculty’s response to NHS England’s 2017 consultation on prescribing of medicines of perceived low clinical effectiveness.
“At that time we pointed out that removing public funded access to homeopathy would inevitably result in patients being prescribed more costly conventional drugs, which may not be as effective but will certainly increase the NHS’s drugs’ bill.”