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The University of Southampton

Reducing the threat of resistance to antibiotics

University of Southampton research has notably contributed to reducing the global threat of antibiotic resistance. A series of conventional and novel trials has influenced important clinical guidelines for Respiratory Tract Infections (RTIs) and new prescribing strategies, with the US and EU following suit. As a direct result of our work, delayed prescribing of antibiotics for acute respiratory infections is now an everyday tool for UK GPs.

Research Challenge

Unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions in primary care are a key driver for antibiotic resistance. Campaigns by the UK’s Department of Health have discouraged overuse and over-prescription of antibiotics by patients and doctors. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) reported that 25% of patients visited their GP with respiratory tract infections each year, costing £24.3 million and accounting for 60% of GP antibiotic prescribing.


A recent effort to raise awareness of antibiotic resistance began with a Department of Health report highlighting that 80% of UK prescribing occurs in primary care. The report recommended that NICE develop new guidelines on antibiotic prescribing by medical practitioners.

Our solution

Southampton researchers piloted a series of novel trials to assess effectiveness of different antibiotic prescribing strategies for acute infections. Results showed that prescribing antibiotics for sore throats does not reduce the extent or duration of symptoms.

Following studies for acute otitis media, sinusitis, lower respiratory tract infections and conjunctivitis revealed similar findings. Further trials led by our team resulted in recommendations to avoid or delay prescribing antibiotics as part of a national strategy to reduce risk of antibiotic resistance.

What was the impact?

The link between delayed antibiotic prescribing and the fall in prescriptions can be traced to the first Southampton study and our research has influenced guidelines advocating delayed prescribing. The long-term benefits of our work are reduced risk of antibiotic resistance and estimated annual NHS savings of £3.7million.

The impact of our work is felt internationally. Southampton studies laid the foundations for policy change in the United States and significantly influenced guidelines read by GPs and doctors in emergency departments around the EU.

Investigating the resistance of disease to antibiotics
Antibiotic prescribing strategies

Key Publications

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