Young children are now taking much less antibiotics for upper respiratory infections such as coughs and colds since the introduction of free GP care for the under-sixes, according to a new study.
Researchers tracked under-sixes over a two-week period for three years from 2015 to 2017 and checked children who presented with symptoms such as stuffed or runny nose, sore throat, sneezing, aches and pains.
Overall, antibiotic prescribing fell from 70pc to 50pc in daytime GP surgeries and from 72pc to 60pc in the out-of-hours setting.
Patients presenting to out-of-hours services were more likely to receive an antibiotic, the study led by GPs in the training scheme at the School of Medicine in Trinity College said.
The study said the reasons behind the fall are multi-factorial - it is likely increased attendance as a result of gaining access to free GP care has led to parents being able to visit their GP more often if their child has uncertain or more minor illness - thereby facilitating lower prescribing rates.
Parental pressure to prescribe may also have been lessened now that care is free at point of use. In any event, GPs are also more careful about prescribing antibiotics.
"Patients attending an out-of-hours setting were more likely to be prescribed an antibiotic, which was expected," the study in the 'Irish Medical Journal' reported.
"Notably, the only factor clearly associated with immediate antibiotic prescription use was the out-of-hours setting.
"This may be linked to increased workload pressures, lack of opportunity for follow-up, GPs not knowing the patients and the fact that those who present out-of-hours may be sicker than their daytime counterparts."
The study found use of deferred antibiotics was a popular strategy among GPs in both day and evening surgeries.
"Parents with younger infants may be presenting more readily for review but are less likely to receive antibiotic treatment," the authors said.