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COVID-19 pandemic-related pressures on primary care may have driven the inappropriate continuation of antibiotic prescriptions. Yet, prescribing modality (repeat/non-repeat) has not previously been investigated in a pandemic context. With the approval of NHS England, we conducted a retrospective cohort study of >19 million English primary care patient records using the OpenSAFELY-TPP analytics platform. We analysed repeat/non-repeat prescribing frequency in monthly patient cohorts between January 2020 and 2022. In-depth analysis was conducted on January 2020 (“pre-pandemic”) and January 2021 (“pandemic”) cohorts (with a particular focus on repeat prescribing). Per-patient prescribing and clinical conditions were determined by searching primary care records using clinical codelists. Prescriptions in a 6-month lookback period were used to delineate repeat prescribing (≥3 prescriptions) and non-repeat prescribing (1–2 prescriptions). Associations between demographics (e.g., age, sex, ethnicity) and prescribing were explored using unadjusted risk ratios. The frequency of clinical conditions among prescribed patients was examined. Antibiotic prescribing declined from May 2020; non-repeat prescribing declined more strongly than repeat prescribing (maximum declines −26% vs. −11%, respectively). Older patients were at a higher risk of prescribing (especially repeat prescribing). Comorbidities were more common among repeat- vs. non-repeat-prescribed patients. In the pandemic cohort, the most common clinical conditions linked to repeat prescribing were COPD comorbidity and urinary tract infection. Our findings inform the ongoing development of stewardship interventions in England, targeting patient groups wherein there is a high prevalence of repeat prescribing.

Original publication




Journal article





Publication Date





168 - 187