Cameron warned to take urgent action on superbugs menace

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David Cameron must back his words with “decisive and urgent action” to tackle the spectre of antibiotic resistance, a committee of MPs warns today.

Days after delivering a call to arms to defeat superbugs, the Prime Minister was urged not to wait for the outcome of a two-year review addressing the problem.

Steps had to be taken now to ensure that antibiotics were no longer given to people and animals inappropriately, the Science and Technology Committee said.

One radical idea was to develop a system of monitoring the behaviour of patients after they are prescribed the drugs.

There was also a need for more Government-funded research, better training of doctors, “rigorous” public awareness campaigns, and “cheap, rapid and accurate diagnostic tests”.

A report from the MPs said: “For too long, antibiotics have been used as if they were a bottomless pit of cure-all miracle treatments. Antibiotics are ineffective against viruses and other diseases that are not caused by bacteria and the unnecessary prescription of antibiotics has contributed to the acceleration of antibiotic resistance.”

Mr Cameron has pledged to put Britain at the forefront of the fightback against resistant superbugs threatening to send medicine “back to the dark ages”.

Committee chairman Andrew Miller said: “We’re pleased that the Prime Minister has taken the opportunity just ahead of our report launch to reaffirm his commitment to action on antibiotic resistance, but publishing strategies and announcing reviews is not the same as dealing with the problem.”

He said the committee had heard of GPs prescribing antibiotics simply as “dummy” placebos or to “placate patients with distressing symptoms”.

On farms, there was a suspicion that antibiotics were being routinely used on healthy animals.

New financial incentives were needed to persuade drug companies to invest in antibiotics. Of the 18 to 20 companies that were the main suppliers of antibiotics 20 years ago, all but a handful had abandoned them because they were not economically worthwhile.

“We urge the Government to undertake immediate scoping of pricing alternatives and to demonstrate to us how they plan to incentivise organisations to invest in new antimicrobials on a global basis,” said the MPs.