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BackgroundClinical uncertainty in primary care regarding the prognosis of children with respiratory tract infections contributes to the unnecessary use of antibiotics. Improved identification of children at low risk of future hospitalisation might reduce clinical uncertainty. A National Institute for Health and Care Research-funded 5-year programme (RP-PG-0608-10018) was used to develop and feasibility test an intervention.ObjectivesThe aim of the children with acute cough randomised controlled trial was to reduce antibiotic prescribing among children presenting with acute cough and respiratory tract infection without increasing hospital admission.DesignAn efficient, pragmatic open-label, two-arm trial (with embedded qualitative and health economic analyses) using practice-level randomisation using routinely collected data as the primary outcome.SettingGeneral practitioner practices in England.ParticipantsGeneral practitioner practices using the Egton Medical Information Systems® patient-record system for children aged 0-9 years presenting with a cough or upper respiratory tract infection. Recruited by Clinical Research Networks and Clinical Commissioning Groups.InterventionComprised: (1) elicitation of parental concerns during consultation; (2) a clinician-focused prognostic algorithm to identify children with acute cough and respiratory tract infection at low, average or elevated risk of hospitalisation in the next 30 days accompanied by prescribing guidance, (3) provision of a printout for carers including safety-netting advice.Main outcome measuresCo-primaries using the practice list-size for children aged 0-9 years as the denominator: rate of dispensed amoxicillin and macrolide items at each practice (superiority comparison) from NHS Business Services Authority ePACT2 and rate of hospital admission for respiratory tract infection (non-inferiority comparison) from Clinical Commissioning Groups, both routinely collected over 12 months.ResultsOf the 310 practices required, 294 (95%) were recruited (144 intervention and 150 controls) with 336,496 registered 0-9-year-olds (5% of all 0-9-year-old children in England) from 47 Clinical Commissioning Groups. Included practices were slightly larger than those not included, had slightly lower baseline dispensing rates and were located in more deprived areas (reflecting the distribution for practice postcodes nationally). Twelve practices (4%) subsequently withdrew (six related to the pandemic). The median number of times the intervention was used was 70 per practice (by a median of 9 clinicians) over 12 months. There was no evidence that the antibiotic dispensing rate in the intervention practices [0.155 (95% confidence interval 0.135 to 0.179)] differed to controls [0.154 (95% confidence interval 0.130 to 0.182), relative risk= 1.011 (95% confidence interval 0.992 to 1.029); p = 0.253]. There was, overall, a reduction in dispensing levels and intervention usage during the pandemic. The rate of hospitalisation for respiratory tract infection in the intervention practices [0.019 (95% confidence interval 0.014 to 0.026)] compared to the controls [0.021 (95% confidence interval 0.014 to 0.029)] was non-inferior [relative risk = 0.952 (95% confidence interval 0.905 to 1.003)]. The qualitative evaluation found the clinicians liked the intervention, used it as a supportive aid, especially with borderline cases but that it, did not always integrate well within the consultation flow and was used less over time. The economic evaluation found no evidence of a difference in mean National Health Service costs between arms; mean difference -£1999 (95% confidence interval -£6627 to 2630).ConclusionsThe intervention was feasible and subjectively useful to practitioners, with no evidence of harm in terms of hospitalisations, but did not impact on antibiotic prescribing rates.Future work and limitationsAlthough the intervention does not appear to change prescribing behaviour, elements of the approach may be used in the design of future interventions.Trial registrationThis trial is registered as ISRCTN11405239 (date assigned 20 April 2018) at (accessed 5 September 2022). Version 4.0 of the protocol is available at: (accessed 5 September 2022).FundingThis award was funded by the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR) Health Technology Assessment (NIHR award ref: 16/31/98) programme and is published in full in Health Technology Assessment; Vol. 27, No. 32. See the NIHR Funding and Awards website for further award information.

Original publication




Journal article


Health technology assessment (Winchester, England)

Publication Date





1 - 110


Centre for Academic Child Health, University of Bristol, Bristol Medical School, Bristol, UK.