Antimicrobial resistance: grabbing the nation's headlines

NHS medicine pack

‘Antibiotic defences against serious diseases under threat, experts warn’, The Guardian

‘Antibiotic resistance: World on cusp of 'post-antibiotic era’, BBC News

‘Last line in antibiotic resistance under threat’, NHS Choices


With no new class of antibiotic developed in the last 30 years, and a continued rise in their prescription, it’s of little surprise that antimicrobial resistance has started to grab the nation’s headlines. 

It was in 1928 that Alexander Fleming discovered the first antibiotic, penicillin, almost by accident in a humble petri dish. Now nearly 90 years on, the world is facing a very real scenario where common infections may no longer be treated successfully with antibiotics. For conditions where antibiotics are vital, like during certain cancer treatments, this could have devastating consequences.

The situation has been serious enough that, in 2013, the Government produced a UK Five Year Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy, which covers everything from improving the world’s knowledge about the issue to encouraging the development of new antibiotics.

Now, Health Education England, NHS England and Public Health England have joined forces to highlight the challenge of antimicrobial resistance specifically across the NHS. Simply put, the NHS is being asked to strengthen antibiotic control; from 2010 to 2013 antibiotic prescribing in England alone rose by 6%, with hospital inpatient prescribing seeing a particularly high increase.

Our Deputy Medical Director, Dr Tom Davis, said: “Antibiotic resistance is one of the most significant risks to patient safety not just here in the UK, but across Europe. Unfortunately, it’s largely been driven by an increase in the use of antibiotics.

“The NHS collectively is now being asked to ensure it uses antibiotics in the right way – to use the right drug, at the right dose, at the right time, for the right duration.”

Public Health England has produced toolkits to try and prevent further overuse and misuse; the primary care toolkit, created with the Royal College of General Practitioners, aims to help influence prescribers’ and patients’ personal attitudes, social norms and perceived barriers to antibiotic prescribing. The Government has also produced Start smart then focus, an antimicrobial stewardship toolkit for hospitals.

Tom added: “Although only a few of us will use antibiotics in our everyday roles, many of the patients we see will be using them, so please do still take time to read the toolkits where you can.

“It’s really important we give our patients advice around using antibiotics inappropriately. That could include not taking their antibiotics as prescribed, skipping doses, not taking them at regular intervals, saving some for later, or sharing antibiotics with others.”

Want to know more? Keep an eye out for the next issue of Clinical Quality Matters for a further article on antimicrobial resistance, or why not watch the NHS Choices video: What is antibiotic resistance, and why should we care?

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