Clinically unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics in the UK must stop, according to an influential group of MPs, which is calling on the government to make antimicrobial resistance a “top five” policy priority.
A report by the Commons’ Health and Social Care Committee spells out the grave threat to health posed by antimicrobial resistance and calls for urgent action in a number of areas.
“In six months we want to see tangible progress on implementing practical policies”
“Quite simply, if action is not taken to address this growing threat, we are told that modern medicine will be lost,” warned the report, published today.
Key steps include preventing the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics in the UK, where prescribing rates are about double those in the Netherlands, Sweden and the Baltic states.
It highlighted a need for “more challenging targets for primary care” and said a “rapid review” and withdrawal of clinically unnecessary secondary care prescribing was also needed.
The report found IT systems could play a key role in helping clinicians and others, but were not always being used effectively.
“Digital health tools for clinicians and policymakers have the potential to greatly increase the quality, safety, and cost effectiveness of clinical care and reduce the threat of antimicrobial resistance,” said the report.
“Antimicrobial resistance threatens human health on a global scale that has never been seen before”
It added: “The variation in uptake of best practice is unacceptable and there is good evidence of how this could be addressed.”
It said a single organisation should be given responsibility for co-ordinating clinical decision support systems across the NHS, and “ensuring they prompt evidence-based prescribing of antimicrobials, as well as other medicines”.
The report also highlighted the fact no new classes of antibiotics have been developed for decades and the need to invest in research and support drugs companies to bring products to market.
“In six months we want to see tangible progress on implementing practical policies to reverse the worrying exodus from antimicrobial resistance research and development and both government and industry should play their part in tackling this issue,” said Dr Sarah Wollaston, chair of the committee and MP for Totnes.
Rose Gallagher, the Royal College of Nursing’s professional lead for infection prevention and control, said the college recognised the serious concerns raised in the report.
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“Antimicrobial resistance threatens human health on a global scale that has never been seen before, and the UK should be leading the way to protect people now and into the future,” she said.
“While the RCN welcomes the recommendations in this report, the time for discussion is over,” she said. “The government must act on these recommendations now.”
She noted that the RCN was launching an education programme designed to “reinvigorate” infection control education across health and social care.
“Nurses have long been at the forefront of infection control, and we are educating the leaders of the future,” she said.
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Ms Gallagher said local authorities and public health teams needed to get more involved in efforts to tackle the problem.
“Antimicrobial resistance is a public health priority and health, social care and public health must be working together,” she said.
She added: “Inaction now could soon see a resurgence in diseases long thought banished, a return to a time when common infections are untreatable.”