David Cameron unveils measures to tackle drug-resistant bug infections

David Cameron has committed his Government to halving drug-resistant bug infections by 2020, with measures including the introduction of tough new targets to limit inappropriate use of antibiotics

The commitment was announced at the G7 summit in Japan, where heads of the world's leading economies were discussing what the Prime Minister regards as one of the biggest public health dangers threatening the world.

A Government-commissioned report produced last week by Lord O'Neill warned that a failure to act on anti-microbial resistance (AMR) could lead to 10 million deaths a year by 2050, with a cumulative hit on the world economy totalling 100 trillion US dollars.

The increasing resistance of bugs to antibiotic drugs risks the end of modern medicine as we know it, warned O'Neill, who estimated the cost taking action on the issue at 40 billion dollars (£27bn) over 10 years.

The UK already offers doctors financial incentives to reduce the use of antibiotics in GP surgeries and hospitals, with the cash reinvested in measures to reduce inappropriate prescription, for instance by employing nurses with expertise in the field. Family doctors have already made progress with over 2.6 million fewer proscriptions in 2015/16.

Now Mr Cameron has announced new measures for England:

:: A target of halving the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics in humans by 2020;

:: A goal to halve the number of the riskiest healthcare-associated bloodstream infections - such as E-coli - by 2020, which would help reduce demand for antibiotics;

:: An overall target for antibiotic use in livestock and fish farmed for food to be cut to the level recommended by Lord O'Neill by 2018;

:: Strict oversight - and possible bans - on the use in animals of antibiotics which are critical for human health - including supporting restrictions or even bans where necessary;

:: Developing a global system to reward companies that develop new, successful antibiotics and make them available to all who need them;

:: A Public Health England awareness campaign on the threat posed by drug-resistant bugs and the need for behaviour change to end overuse of antibiotics.

Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said: "Jim O'Neill has estimated that the global cost of taking action on AMR is up to 40 billion dollars over 10 years - but this is vastly outstripped by the costs of inaction, which is potentially in the trillions, so we cannot afford not to step up to secure the future of modern medicine.

"The measures to be announced today further reinforce for the international community just how serious we are about tackling AMR, and the investment we make in doing so will be money well spent in saving lives."

England is already investing £265 million to strengthen surveillance of antimicrobial use and resistance in 11 countries worldwide; putting in £50 million to kick start a global AMR innovation fund to help develop new antimicrobials; and funding the development of rapid diagnostic tests as part of the £1 billion Ross Fund announced last year to ensure people get given the right drugs for the right bugs at the right time. 

The Government's chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: "I welcome the commitments made today. If we are to tackle drug resistant infections, we need to take action both here in the UK, and in collaboration with our international partners.

"Today's announcement demonstrates the importance that the UK places on tackling drug resistant infections and we must all do our bit."

Chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens added: "It's important that we act now to start reducing antibiotic use in livestock, and our commitment to meet Lord Jim O'Neill's suggested 50mg/kg target overall by 2018 sets the UK well on that path.

"In order to reach this industry-wide target, it is vital that we work closely with individual sectors to ensure that reductions are underpinned by improvements which focus on encouraging best practice and responsible use of antibiotics, and which ultimately safeguard animal health and welfare. To embed this, we will work with agriculture and veterinary stakeholders to agree appropriate sector-specific reduction targets by 2017."

Vickie Hawkins, executive director of Doctors Without Borders UK, welcomed the Government's drive but said ministers must ensure pharmaceutical companies"do their bit".

"Existing vaccines must be affordable to the millions of people who need them, so we can stop people getting infections in the first place," said Ms Hawkins.

"Jim O'Neill says that if every child was vaccinated against pneumonia, it would potentially avert 11.4 million days of antibiotic use per year in children under five.

"Yet what O'Neill's report, and the Government's plan of action, doesn't do is join the dots and recommend that companies already producing this vaccine, such as GlaxoSmithKline and Pfizer, lower the price to improve coverage rates."

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