July 7, 2014 12:03 am

Urgent action called for on antibiotic resistance

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Jonathan McHugh illustration©Jonathan McHugh

Action against antibiotic resistance is needed too urgently to wait for the outcome of the review announced by David Cameron last week, MPs say.

In a wide-ranging report published on Monday, the Commons science and technology committee welcomes the prime minister’s appointment of Jim O’Neill, former Goldman Sachs chief economist, to lead a team to spur the development of new drugs to prevent a return to “the dark ages of medicine”.

But the all-party committee points out that the review will take almost two years to report back. This must not delay work on financial incentives for research and development that could be agreed with drug companies over a shorter timescale, it says.

“We urge the government to undertake immediate scoping of pricing alternatives and to demonstrate how they plan to incentivise organisations to invest in new anti-microbials on a global basis,” the report says.

Andrew Miller, the chairman, said: “Publishing strategies and announcing reviews is not the same as dealing with the problem. What we really need from government now is decisive and urgent action to prevent antibiotics from being given to people and animals who do not need them.”

The government should ensure the NHS prevents unnecessary prescriptions for patients not suffering from bacterial infections, the report urges. At the same time, campaigns are needed to build public awareness, so that patients do not demand inappropriate treatments.

“We heard concerns that antibiotics are often prescribed by GPs simply to achieve a placebo effect or placate patients with distressing symptoms,” said Mr Miller.

Another issue is the rapid growth of antibiotic use in farming, the MPs say. Total veterinary prescription of tetracyclines has increased nearly tenfold and of penicillin-types fivefold over 40 years.

There is circumstantial evidence that resistance can spread from animals to humans, so antibiotics should be restrained in use in farming and not used on healthy animals.

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