The world is sleepwalking towards a ‘post-antibiotic apocalypse’, says England’s chief medical officer Dame Sally Davies.
The warning was made at the Global Superbug Crisis event in London that was held at Parliament last week and organised by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
At the event, a number of experts from across the world came to discuss the growing concern of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) – the processes whereby infections are becoming resistant to the antibiotics used to cure them.
The panel of experts, which included Lord Jim O’Neill, chair of the 2016 government review on AMR, stressed that immediate action was needed in order to prevent the ‘end of modern medicine’.
Lord O’Neill said that while there was some progress being made on a number of the areas identified by the review, there was also a ‘staggering amount of talk’, with little action to match, on other important aspects of AMR. He also said implementing new diagnostic tests would be ‘a game-changer’ in the fight against unnecessary prescriptions.
For Linda Nazarko, a nurse consultant working in West London, ‘the key is diagnosis’.
‘I still encounter nurses and doctors who diagnose on the basis of a labstick in people who have indwelling urinary catheters. We know that in 25% of people with cellulitis, the diagnosis is incorrect. So its about educating staff to be aware of possible diagnoses and to ensure that they diagnose correctly,’ she told Independent Nurse.
The main causes of the rise of AMR are over-prescription of antibiotics by healthcare professional and their excessive use in agriculture, often being used as ‘growth promoters’.
As such, the NHS has committed to reducing the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics in line with the AMR Review’s recommendations that ‘fundamental change is required in the way that antibiotics are consumed and prescribed’.
As part of the policy to reduce antibiotic use, NICE has drawn up prescription guidelines for the first time, and has discouraged prescribes from using antibiotics to treat minor illnesses such as a sore throat.
Professor Cliodna McNulty, Head of Primary Care Unit at Public Health England, said: ‘Antibiotics are a precious resource and it’s important that they are only used when they are really needed.’
Ms Nazarko warned that the rise of ‘superbugs’ was frightening her because ‘we are already reaching a point where infections that were simple to treat like gonohorrea and tuberculosis now require complex treatments and often long term intravenous antibiotics.
‘If we do not change practice we risk entering an age where common infections become untreatable.’
Lord O’Neill ended his speech by calling for the government to start leading once again on the issue of AMR. He said that the UK’s efforts under former Prime Minister David Cameron had been recognised globally as being ‘fantastic’.
‘We need to get back to that same level of voice to make sure the momentum that is going on is not only maintained, but accelerated,’ he said.