Prime Minister David Cameron has asked GPs to 'halve' inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics within four years.
Mr Cameron announced the targets as world leaders gathered to discuss how to tackle the global problem of antimicrobial resistance at the G7 summit in Japan.
The Department of Health told Pulse it was not possible to put a definite figure on how many prescriptions are inappropriate and how many fewer prescriptions GPs would therefore need to prescribe to hit the new target.
But several national media reports said that around 10% of prescriptions – around 3.4m a year – are thought to be prescribed unnecessarily, for complaints like coughs and colds.
This would mean GPs would need to be prescribing 1.7m fewer antibiotics each year by 2020.
It comes as GPs have been praised for cutting down total antibiotic useby 7% – or 2.6m fewer prescriptions – over the past year.
NHS chiefs hailed this as a successful outcome of the quality premium scheme, which includes rewards for CCGs to hit targets for reducing both overall and broad spectrum antibiotic use. But evidence from Public Health England has shown that GP prescribing of antibiotics was already falling prior to the introduction of the scheme.