An increase in the price paid by patients for antibiotics has done nothing to depress consumption, according to figures from the Christian Mutuality (CM). The price increase was introduced by federal minister Maggie De Block, herself a practising family doctor, when she was health minister in 2017, in an attempt to screw back on the excessive consumption of antibiotics.
Antibiotics are used to treat bacterial infections, but over-use has led to a situation where commonly occurring bacteria have developed a resistance to most antibiotics, making them more difficult to treat while scientists race to find a new treatment. In addition, new research has indicated that over-use of antibiotics can affect the body’s own defences, for example by depleting the beneficial bacteria found in the intestines, which could explain the growth in allergies and food intolerances.
The price adjustment was an attempt to discourage patients from demanding antibiotics from their family doctor for complaints where the drugs are not indicated, such as flu, caused by a virus not amenable to treatment with antibiotics, or the common cold, also virus-based and cured by nothing more sophisticated than rest and time.
The medical insurance industry, having found no solution in discouraging patients, is now calling for doctors to be fined for over-prescribing.
“Right from the start we warned that the measure would not have the desired effect,” said Luc Van Gorp of CM. While the mutualities pay one-quarter less under the new measure, and the patient’s contribution doubles, consumption only declined by 1.12% immediately after the introduction of the price change – an effect likely to have dissipated with time as patients and doctors return to old habits. “The patient is not the one who decides to use antibiotics,” Van Gorp told the VRT. “It’s doctors who prescribe them.”
The results, according to professor Herman Goossens of Antwerp University, a specialist in clinical biology, were “perfectly predictable. If you want to do something about the prescribing behaviour of doctors, you have to work with the doctors, not make patients pay more out of their own pockets.”
Now the federal expertise centre for health care is calling for a joint campaign by federal and regional public health services act to encourage the medical sector, the veterinary sector, researchers, universities, agricultural organisations and the food and drugs industries to work together to put the brakes on antibiotic use in circumstances where the drugs are not indicated.