Antimicrobial resistance

Globally, 700,000 people die each year due to drug-resistant diseases. Left unchecked, drug resistance could lead to 10 million deaths each year by 2050. 

One of the causes of resistance is the use of antibiotics when they are not needed. In England, most antibiotics prescriptions are made by GPs, and BIT has conducted work to reduce unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions in this context.

By sending a letter to GPs whose practices were in the top 20 per cent of prescribers in their local area, BIT reduced unnecessary antibiotics prescriptions by 3.3 per cent. The letter used three approaches informed by behavioural insights:

  • It highlighted that the vast majority of local practices prescribed fewer antibiotics per person than the recipient’s.
  • It provided three suggestions to reduce antibiotic prescriptions.
  • It was signed by an influential messenger (the Chief Medical Officer for England).

In real terms, we estimate that the letter saved more than 73,000 antibiotics items being dispensed during the six-month trial period. The intervention (or very similar) has now been replicated in a number of settings, where it has continued to prove effective.

There is still a great deal of scope for behavioural interventions to help reduce antimicrobial resistance, including scaling successful interventions to other contexts and trialling other new interventions.