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

More needs to be done to tackle antimicrobial resistance across the globe, Matt Hancock said.

Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock is warning of the threat from antimicrobial resistance (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Health and Social Care Secretary Matt Hancock is warning of the threat from antimicrobial resistance (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 has warned.

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

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

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

He said: “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 and 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 and as big a danger as climate change or warfare. And that’s why we need an urgent global response.”

Mr Hancock also announced that within six months the NHS procurement structure for antibiotics will change to “pay up front” for the drugs in order to aide pharmaceutical innovation.

He said: “Because of its unique position it (the NHS) can take a global lead in pioneering a new payment system … It’s a bit like being a Spotify subscriber rather than a vinyl record shopper.

“The NHS already spends £1 billion on antibiotics … Rather than paying per click and paying per pill, it’s about having a more dynamic relationship with pharmaceutical companies in this area.”

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.

PA

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