Antimicrobial resistance ‘must become a Government priority’

MPs are warning over infections becoming resistant to antibiotics (Anthony Devlin/PA) Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Tackling antimicrobial resistance needs to become a top five policy priority for the Government in order to help prevent the virtual loss of modern medicine, MPs have said.

A report by the Health and Social Care Committee said it wants to see “tangible progress” over the next six months to “reverse the worrying exodus” from research into antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

Antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim at least 50,000 lives each year across Europe and the US alone, along with 700,000 lives globally.

These figures are set to rise dramatically over the next 30 years, with the death toll estimated to be 10 million a year by 2050 – higher than from cancer and diabetes combined.

No new classes of antibiotics have been developed for decades.

They are not seen as profitable by drug companies as new antibiotics are only initially prescribed very sparingly rather than as a first line treatment during their patent lives.

The report says that while in developed health systems it is possible to access alternative second or third line treatments when patients develop a resistant infection, mortality rates and costs of treatment are likely to be approximately double for a drug-resistant infection, generating an estimated cost to the NHS of £180 million a year.

It said options to address this market failure include changes to patent law and to the ways that pharmaceutical companies are reimbursed for new antimicrobial medicines.

Although in primary care, there has been a 13% reduction in the number of prescriptions for antibiotics in the past five years, there has been less progress in secondary care and prescribing levels in the UK are still around double that of the Netherlands, Sweden and the Baltic States.

The report said a reduction in clinically unnecessary secondary care prescribing is clearly needed.

It said digital health tools for clinicians and policymakers can dramatically help to reduce the threat of antimicrobial resistance, but there has been great variation in the uptake of this.

It suggests a single organisation should be given responsibility for co-ordinating this across the NHS, and ensuring prompt evidence-based prescribing of antimicrobials, as well as other medicines.

The report said that, in terms of Brexit, the Government must make a clear commitment that any future trade deals will require any meat and dairy produce imported into the UK to meet at least the same standards relating to antibiotic use which apply to meat and dairy products produced in the EU.

Committee chairwoman Dr Sarah Wollaston said: “In six months we want to see tangible progress on implementing practical policies to reverse the worrying exodus from AMR research and development and both Government and industry should play their part in tackling this issue.”

Last month the committee heard that the problem had been a “top five” issue under David Cameron’s government, but appeared to have become less important since.

Lord Jim O’Neill, who led a major review on the topic, told the committee he was not aware of any current senior ministers raising the issue.

“Under the previous prime minister Britain had a fantastic voice of power and influence globally on this topic,” he said.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokeswoman said: “The UK is a recognised global leader on AMR and we are committed to tackling the issue both at home and internationally.

“GPs already prescribe antibiotics 13% less than they did in 2013, we have invested record amounts in research and development, and we will set ourselves challenging ambitions for the next five years.”