Doctors who are prescribing antibiotics to patients with minor infections should face disciplinary action, according to a director of the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), amid fears over rising numbers of drug-resistant ‘superbugs’.

Professor Mark Baker, director of NICE’s centre for clinical practice, has warned that limiting the effectiveness of antibiotics by prescribing inappropriately is threatening the whole basis of modern medicine. This warning comes as NICE has released new guidance for the NHS in England which is aimed at GPs who prescribe antibiotics to ‘pushy’ patients for illnesses that are not cured by drugs developed to combat bacterial and fungal disease.

The use of antibiotics has risen in recent years with 41.6 million NHS prescriptions issued during 2014 at a cost of £192m. According to NICE, nine out of 10 GPs feel pressurised into giving prescriptions to patients. Professor Baker claims that as many as a quarter of prescriptions issued are to patients that will not benefit from the drugs.

Linda Millband, national practice lead for clinical negligence at Thompsons Solicitors, said: “Resistance to antibiotics is increasing but there is a balance to be had between discouraging over prescribing and ensuring that patients who genuinely require antibiotics are prescribed them to ensure that they are adequately treated.

“Through our work with victims of medical negligence, we have seen first-hand the effects of patients being misdiagnosed or not being referred to specialists by GPs. With any illness time is of the essence and so the sooner a patient receives the right course of treatment, the better the prognosis.”