Potentially it is a “ticking time bomb”.
Resilience to antibiotics is one of the greatest threats to modern health, according to the Government’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies.
“The soaring number of antibiotic-resistant infections pose such a great threat to society that in 20 years’ time we could be taken back to a 19th century environment where everyday infections kill us as a result of routine operations,” she says.
“We have reached a critical point and must act now on a global scale to slow down antimicrobial resistance. In Europe, 25,000 people a year already die from infections which are resistant to our drugs of last resort.
“I have already issued a call to action in the UK, but we can’t tackle the problem on our own and urgently need coordinated international action.”
Dame Sally Davies was speaking following a new report from the World Health Organisation (WHO) which says that antibiotic resistance is no longer a looming danger but a reality with the potential to affect anyone of any age in any country.
Urgent action is now needed to stem the threat to global public health before it is too late, according to the authors.
The report examines data from 114 countries and focuses on seven different bacteria responsible for common but serious diseases such as bloodstream infections (sepsis), diarrhoea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections and gonorrhoea.
It documents resistance to antibiotics, including “last resort” drugs, the final line of defence against the bugs, in all regions of the world and both rich and poor nations.
Dr Keji Fekuda, WHO’s assistant director-general for health security, says: “Without urgent, coordinated action by many stakeholders, the world is headed for a post-antibiotic era, in which common infections and minor injuries which have been treatable for decades can once again kill.
“Effective antibiotics have been one of the pillars, allowing us to live longer, live healthier and benefit from modern medicine. Unless we take significant actions to improve efforts to prevent infections and also change how we produce, prescribe and use antibiotics, the world will lose more and more of these global public health goods and the implications will be devastating.”
Greg Fell, Consultant in Public Health for Bradford Council, said: “Everyone has a role to play in tackling antibiotic resistance. Patients can help by only using antibiotics when they are prescribed by a doctor, making sure they completed the full course of treatment even if feeling better, and never sharing antibiotics or using left over prescriptions.
“Antibiotics are only effective against bacterial infections and cannot tackle viruses like coughs and colds. The use of antibiotics in many minor bacterial infections might also not affect the speed of the healing process.
“We work with GPs and other health professionals to ensure antibiotics are correctly prescribed. Patients shouldn't expect to be prescribed antibiotics or be upset if they aren’t offered them.”
Dr Richard Dawson, a GP at Westcliffe Medical practice in Shipley, says the importance of not giving antibiotics inappropriately is drilled into doctors from day one. “When making assessments of patients, you determine whether they have an illness where it is justified, and having a conversation as to why it isn’t justified,” he explains, referring to circumstances when it is and when it isn’t appropriate to prescribe antibiotics.
A spokesperson for the three local clinical commissioning groups (CCGs): NHS Airedale, Wharfedale and Craven, NHS Bradford City and NHS Bradford District, said: “This is an important issue for us, along with the whole NHS, and we are working closely with local GP practices and our partners in microbiology and public health to ensure there is appropriate prescribing of antibiotics to reduce the risk of resistance developing.”