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Substantial variation in antibiotic prescribing rates between general practices persists, but remains unexplained at national level.
To establish the degree of variation in antibiotic prescribing between practices in England and identify the characteristics of practices that prescribe higher volumes of antibiotics.
8057 general practices in England.
A dataset was constructed containing data on standardised antibiotic prescribing volumes, practice characteristics, patient morbidity, ethnicity, social deprivation, and Quality and Outcomes Framework achievement (2004–2005). Data were analysed using multiple regression modelling.
There was a twofold difference in standardised antibiotic prescribing volumes between practices in the 10th and 90th centiles of the sample (0.48 versus 0.95 antibiotic prescriptions per antibiotic STAR-PU [Specific Therapeutic group Age-sex weightings-Related Prescribing Unit]). A regression model containing nine variables explained 17.2% of the variance in antibiotic prescribing. Practice location in the north of England was the strongest predictor of high antibiotic prescribing. Practices serving populations with greater morbidity and a higher proportion of white patients prescribed more antibiotics, as did practices with shorter appointments, non-training practices, and practices with higher proportions of GPs who were male, >45 years of age, and qualified outside the UK.
Practice and practice population characteristics explained about one-sixth of the variation in antibiotic prescribing nationally. Consultation-level and qualitative studies are needed to help further explain these findings and improve our understanding of this variation.