Stricter curbs are under way to check the rampant use of antibiotics by doctors and hospitals amid growing fears that overuse will lead to increased drug resistance.
The rules, to be drafted by the health authority, will hold hospital chiefs accountable for the use of anti-bacterial drugs.
The new regulations will, for the first time, divide antibiotics into three groups and link prescriptions with the class that each hospital or doctor belongs to.
'We will divide antibacterial agents into three categories: restricted, unrestricted and those under special management,' said Zhao Minggang, vice-director of the ministry's medical administration department. 'Having full or partial access to antibiotics will depend on the level of the medical institution. We will specify the level of access to antibacterial agents that different classes of hospitals have.'
The problem is common on the mainland, often because doctors can get more kickbacks for prescribing antibiotics. Some doctors also tend to rely on powerful antibiotics to achieve quick and effective cures so that they can avoid risks in prolonged treatment or conflicts with patients, but such actions exacerbate drug resistance.
The new system is also set to make directors of hospitals and institutions directly responsible for antibiotics prescriptions. It will also specify the obligations of drug affairs committees in hospitals.
Since 2003, the health authorities have issued 12 directives or guidelines on antibiotics use. The latest crackdown would lower the use of antibiotics effectively, said Xiao Yonghong, professor of Zhejiang No 1 People's Hospital and director of the national drug-resistant bacteria surveillance network run by the Ministry of Health.
'The previous documents were more technical and tried to regulate the doctors directly, but this time hospital presidents are made ultimately accountable and the use of antibiotics will become a factor for hospital class approval,' Xiao said.
'The pressure now is on the hospital management ... '
Zhao rejected a media report that 2.5 million people were admitted to hospital for drug allergies and 200,000 of them died, with 40 per cent of deaths related to antibiotics abuse.
He said the national monitoring network recorded only 650,000 cases of adverse drug reactions in 2009 and 690,000 cases last year. Deaths due to drug allergies totalled 500 in 2009 and 600 last year. 'The news report was irresponsible and misleading,' he said.
But Xiao said success also depended on monitoring pharmacies. 'Right now, you can buy many antibiotics in a pharmacy without a doctor's prescription. When you limit the prescription of antibiotics, you also need to make sure pharmacies abide strictly by the rules and do not sell drugs without prescriptions.'