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Government publishes new plan to tackle antimicrobial resistance

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Nurses and other health professionals are being urged to step up the fight against drug-resistant “superbugs”.

The government has today published a new five-year action plan to support its pledge to contain and control antimicrobial resistance (AMR) by 2040.

“Antimicrobial resistance is as big a danger to humanity as climate change or warfare”

Matt Hancock

Health and social care secretary Matt Hancock said AMR was as big a threat to society as climate change and warfare.

AMR is estimated to cause at least 700,000 deaths around the world each year and that figure is predicted to rise to 10 million by 2050 if no action is taken.

The plan stated: “The rise and spread of AMR is creating a new generation of ‘superbugs’ that cannot be treated with existing medicines.

“The impacts of leaving AMR unchecked are wide-ranging and extremely costly, not only in financial terms but also in terms of global health, food sustainability and security, environmental wellbeing, and socio-economic development,” it added.

Antimicrobials are drugs that that selectively destroy or inhibit the growth of disease-causing microorganisms and include antibiotics antiviral and antifungal agents. AMR occurs when these microorganisms that cause disease cease to be affected by the drugs we use to kill them and treat the disease.

Without effective antimicrobials, everyday operations like caesarean sections or hip replacements could become too dangerous to perform, the government warned.

Mr Hancock said: “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. 

Health and social care secretary

Matt Hancock

Source: Department of Health and Social Care

Matt Hancock

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

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 have dropped by 40%.

However, the number of drug-resistant bloodstream infections have increased by 35% from 2013 to 2017.

The plan stated that in the UK, the biggest drivers of resistance were a rise in the incidence of infections; travellers bringing back resistant infections from other countries; and antimicrobial use.

Earlier this month, Public Health England announced that it was investigating two cases of drug-resistant gonorrhoea that had originated in Europe.

Nurses play a key role the AMR agenda. The government is calling on health professionals to redouble their efforts to prevent and control infections that require antimicrobials where possible, and to prescribe these drugs only when they are needed.

The plan includes targets to:

  • Cut the number of drug-resistant infections by 10% by 2025
  • Halve healthcare associated Gram-negative blood stream infections
  • Reduce UK antimicrobial use in humans by 15% by 2024

It promised to implement new technology to gather real-time patient data, helping clinicians understand when to use and preserve antibiotics in their treatment.

Rose Gallagher, professional lead for infection prevention and control at the Royal College of Nursing, welcomed the plan but said it needed to go hand-in-hand in investment in the nursing workforce.

“AMR threatens human health on a global scale rarely seen before, and the UK is right to lead the way to protect people now and into the future,” she said.

“The new strategy is a welcome step forward in the fight against AMR but for it to truly work, the government must commit to investing in the part of the workforce that works most directly with patients,” Ms Gallagher added.

”We are working hard across all sectors of healthcare to reduce the risks posed by antimicrobial resistance but cannot continue to do so without a long-term commitment to build the workforce,” she said.  

The government is also asking the pharmaceutical industry to take more responsibility for AMR.

NICE and NHS England will explore a new payment model that pays drug companies based on how valuable their medicines are to the NHS, rather than on the quantity of antibiotics sold.

The plan also highlighted the importance of supporting new research in AMR.

Members of the public would also be surveyed to understand their attitudes to and awareness of AMR, the plan said.

The plan covered animals and the environment as well as human health.

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Readers' comments (1)

  • There are many countries in the world where anyone can simply buy antibiotics over the counter - I've done it myself in the past, in Spain. Unless other countries are prepared to stop this practice, our efforts will not be effective.

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