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Antimicrobial resistance as big a threat as climate change – Health Secretary

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock is warning of the threat from antimicrobial resistance Photo: Jonathan Brady/PA

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is such a threat that “we are on the cusp of a world where a simple graze could be deadly”, the Health and Social Care Secretary will warn.

Matt Hancock will say AMR is as big a threat to humanity as climate change and will call for immediate action to cut the inappropriate use of antibiotics.

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Mr Hancock will say resistance needs to be treated as a global health emergency.

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He is expected to unveil a target to cut the number of resistant infections and to reduce the use of antibiotics in humans even further.

He will say: “Imagine a world without antibiotics. Where treatable infections become untreatable, where routine surgery like a hip operation becomes too risky to carry out, and where every wound is potentially life-threatening.

“What would go through your mind if your child cut their finger and you knew there was no antibiotic left that could treat an infection?

“This was the human condition until almost a century ago. I don’t want it to be the future for my children – yet it may be unless we act.

“As health secretary responsible for one of the most advanced healthcare systems in the world, I could not look my children in the eyes unless I knew I was doing all in my power to solve this great threat. When we have time to act. But the urgency is now.

“Each and every one of us benefits from antibiotics, but we all too easily take them for granted, and I shudder at the thought of a world in which their power is diminished.

“Antimicrobial resistance is as big a danger to humanity as climate change or warfare. That’s why we need an urgent global response.”

Prime Minister Theresa May said: “The increase in antibiotic resistance is a threat we cannot afford to ignore.

“It is vital that we tackle the spread of drug-resistant infections before routine operations and minor illnesses become life-threatening.

“I am very proud of the UK’s global leadership on this important agenda. We will continue to work with our partners to drive international action that will protect the health of future generations.”

Government data shows that, since 2014, the UK has cut the amount of antibiotics it uses by more than 7% and sales of antibiotics for use in food-producing animals has dropped by 40%.

But the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections has increased by 35% from 2013 to 2017.

Chief medical officer for England, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “The threat of antimicrobial resistance cannot be overstated – without intervention it is not an exaggeration to say that we could return to the dark ages of medicine.”

She added: “The Government aims to cut the number of drug-resistant infections by 10% – 5,000 infections – by 2025 and prevent at least 15,000 patients from contracting infections as a result of their healthcare each year by 2024.”

As part of new work, NHS England and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) will explore how a new payment model could act as an incentive for firms to develop drugs that will treat high priority resistant infections.