The COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the delivery of primary care services. We aimed to identify general practitioners’ (GPs’) perceptions and experiences of how the COVID-19 pandemic influenced antibiotic prescribing and antimicrobial stewardship (AMS) in general practice in England. Twenty-four semi-structured interviews were conducted with 18 GPs at two time-points: autumn 2020 (14 interviews) and spring 2021 (10 interviews). Interviews were audio-recorded, transcribed and analysed thematically, taking a longitudinal approach. Participants reported a lower threshold for antibiotic prescribing (and fewer consultations) for respiratory infections and COVID-19 symptoms early in the pandemic, then returning to more usual (pre-pandemic) prescribing. They perceived the pandemic as having had less impact on antibiotic prescribing for urinary and skin infections. Participants perceived the changing ways of working and consulting (e.g., proportions of remote and in-person consultations) in addition to changing patient presentations and GP workloads as influencing the fluctuations in antibiotic prescribing. This was compounded by decreased engagement with, and priority of, AMS due to COVID-19-related urgent priorities. Re-engagement with AMS is needed, e.g., through reviving antibiotic prescribing feedback and targets/incentives. The pandemic disrupted, and required adaptations in, the usual ways of working and AMS. It is now important to identify opportunities, e.g., for re-organising ways of managing infections and AMS in the future.
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