Antibiotics resistance as big a risk to Britain as terrorism, claims medical chief
The government's chief medical officer has issued a warning over the growing resistance to antibiotics (Picture: Alamy)
The danger posed by the growing resistance to antibiotics should be ranked alongside terrorism on the list of threats to Britain, the government's chief medical officer has claimed.
Professor Dame Sally Davies described the issues as a 'ticking time-bomb' and said it should be added to the National Risk Register.
The chief medical officer warned that routine operations such as hip replacements could become deadly in a couple of decades if the ability to fight infection is lost.
Dame Sally said the problem is 'as important as climate change for the world' and urged the government to raise the issue when meeting political leaders at the G8 summit in London next month.
In her latest report, Dame Sally sets out a call for action about how to tackle the 'catastrophic threat'.
She called for better protection of the current stock of antibiotics, better incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs and asked ministers to ensure the issue is placed on the register.
Dame Sally's report states: 'There is a need for politicians in the UK to prioritise antimicrobial resistance as a major area of concern, including on the national risk register (specifically the National Security Risk Assessment) and pushing for action internationally as well as in local healthcare services.
'Antimicrobial resistance is a ticking time-bomb not only for the UK but also for the world.
'We need to work with everyone to ensure the apocalyptic scenario of widespread antimicrobial resistance does not become a reality.
'This threat is arguably as important as climate change for the world.'Professor Dame Sally Davies described the issues as a 'ticking time-bomb' (Picture: Alamy)
The chief medical officer commented: 'Antimicrobial resistance poses a catastrophic threat. If we don't act now, any one of us could go into hospital in 20 years for minor surgery and die because of an ordinary infection that can't be treated by antibiotics.
'And routine operations like hip replacements or organ transplants could be deadly because of the risk of infection.
'That's why governments and organisations across the world, including the World Health Organisation and G8, need to take this seriously.
'This is not just about government action. We need to encourage more innovation in the development of antibiotics – over the past two decades there has been a discovery void around antibiotics, meaning diseases have evolved faster than the drugs to treat them.'
She said that there has been a 'discovery void' in the field since 1987 and pharmaceutical companies need to be incentivised to develop new antibiotics.
'We have also been waiting for the next new antibiotic to come along and treat those resistant cases but the pipeline is drying up,' she said.
'There are no new classes of antibiotics in the pipelines across the world and there are very few in development.
'That's because we have not, as a global society, incentivised producing antibiotics. We have market failure and we really need to do something about this.'
In addition to encouraging the development of new drugs, the report highlights that looking after the current stock of antibiotics is equally important.
The Chief Medical Officer also said that more action is needed to tackle the next generation of healthcare associated infections, including new strains of pneumonia-causing klebsiella, which will be harder to treat.
She said the issue should also be considered by the Department for Food, Environment and Rural Affairs because around 50 per cent of antibiotics used in the UK are given to animals.
She added that the issue is 'key for the economy' because infection – including NHS costs and people taking time off work when ill – is already estimated to cost England £30billion a year.
The Department of Health said it will soon publish the UK Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy setting out a five-year action plan aiming to address the issue.