Antibiotic resistance ‘as big a threat as terrorism’

A top medic has warned that weakened drugs are a 'time bomb'. Picture: Jon Savage
A top medic has warned that weakened drugs are a 'time bomb'. Picture: Jon Savage
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THE threat of antibiotic resistance should be ranked alongside terrorism on a list of risks facing the UK, a leading medic has warned.

Professor Dame Sally Davies, chief medical officer for England, said the problem of illnesses becoming resistant to the dwindling number of drugs available to treat them was a “ticking time bomb”.

She said that the problem should be put on the UK government’s National Risk Register – which also includes “catastrophic terrorist attacks”, pandemic flu and coastal flooding.

The Scottish Government said it understood the urgency to tackle antibiotic resistance and a UK-wide strategy would be published shortly. Professor Hugh Pennington, emeritus professor of bacteriology at the University of Aberdeen, agreed that antibiotic resistance posed a major problem.

“This issue has been on the agenda for a long time and work has been ongoing to persuade physicians to use antibiotics appropriately to try to tackle the problem,” he said. “Dame Sally really wants this to be right at the top of the agenda in terms of long-term issues alongside terrorism as a major risk to the population, and I can’t disagree with that.”

Dame Sally warned that routine operations such as hip replacements could become deadly in just 20 years time if the ability to fight infection is lost.

She said the problem was “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 set out a call for action about how to tackle the “catastrophic threat”. She called for better protection of our current stock of antibiotics, better incentives for the pharmaceutical industry to develop new drugs and asked ministers to ensure the issue was placed on the register.

The register sets out an ­assessment of the likelihood and potential impact of a range of different risks that may affect the UK.

It is also designed to increase awareness about the types of threats and help government, individuals and other organisations to think about their own preparedness.

Her report states: “Anti-microbial 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.”

A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We fully understand the need and urgency to take forward plans to tackle antimicrobial resistance.”