'Hidden pandemic' of antimicrobial resistance could kill 10 million a year by 2050, Yorkshire MP warns

A 'hidden pandemic' of antibiotic resistance could kill as many as 10 million people a year by 2050, a Yorkshire MP has warned.

Kevin Hollinrake has raised concerns about the impact of antimicrobial resistance.
Kevin Hollinrake has raised concerns about the impact of antimicrobial resistance.

Kevin Hollinrake highlighted that around 700,000 people a year are already dying as a result of antibiotics proving ineffective against evolving infectious diseases.

Speaking during a Westminster Hall debate on the issue on Tuesday, the Conservative MP for Thirsk and Malton said antimicrobial resistance was becoming an increasing global problem that needs to be addressed.

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"The UK Health Security Agency chief medical adviser, Dr Susan Hopkins, said that antimicrobial resistance, or AMR, was 'a hidden pandemic' and that it was important that 'we do not come out of COVID-19 and enter into another crisis'," he warned.

"There can be no excuse this time if we do not prepare well for a future pandemic of AMR."

Mr Hollinrake said: "This is not the first time I have raised the issue in the House, and it will not be the last, because AMR is simply too important to ignore. Antibiotics are one of the most powerful tools in healthcare, underpinning every aspect of modern medicine.

"We need them not just when we are poorly at home with an infection but when we are going through significant life-changing procedures such as chemotherapy and hip replacements. Antibiotics work by killing bacteria but, in the same way that the covid-19 virus can mutate and evolve, so can bacteria, developing resistance to antibiotics.

"Right now, this year, about 700,000 people will die from antibiotic resistance infections across the world. It is estimated that by 2050, AMR could claim as many as 10 million lives a year. It is not a hypothetical or vague threat that is happening elsewhere; it is happening in the UK, is getting worse and will get much more so.

"The latest report from the English surveillance programme for antimicrobial utilisation and resistance found that antibiotic resistance increased by 4.9% between 2016 and 2020. That means that one in five people with a bloodstream infection in 2020 had one that was antibiotic resistant—a serious, potentially life-threatening situation.

"AMR is the next pandemic. It is a hidden pandemic, but that does not mean that we can treat it any less seriously than covid-19. We must have the right plan in place."

He said the country needs a "strong plan in place" to deal with the issue, including AMR being added to death certificates, supporting "only the appropriate use and prescription of existing antibiotics" and incentivising the development and research of new antimicrobials and antibiotics.

Mr Hollinrake added: "We need to take a one-health approach across all three issues that recognises the link between resistance and use in humans, animals, agriculture and the environment.

"The Government’s five-year national action plan on AMR set out the steps we need to take, but we are now just about halfway through and have yet to see any clear update on progress. The UK has been a trailblazer on AMR, but that lack of reporting is not where we need to be. We must be at the forefront of taking domestic action, not least because we are trying to maintain our leadership position as an example for other countries.

"In 2019, in their five-year national action plan, the Government committed to reducing hospital-acquired infections by 2024 and halving gram-negative bloodstream infections in the NHS long-term plan. However, there is increasing concern that the Covid-19 pandemic will have pushed those targets into the background."

York Outer MP Julian Sturdy told the debate the Government needed to study how Covid has impacted the global and national antibiotic resistance challenge.

He said: "Unsurprisingly, the once-in-a-century scale of the pandemic has generated concerns that the increased prescribing of antibiotics worldwide on the back of covid will amplify the problems of growing resistance. The scale of the virus disaster and the variety of global health systems has led to a huge, unco-ordinated and large-scale use of different antibiotics, and we need to know how the nature of the AMR threat has evolved as a result."

Mr Sturdy added: "The costs involved in developing the new drugs needed to beat the resistance are enormous, as has already been touched on in this debate, but arguably our perspective on that has shifted somewhat when we consider the scale of the fiscal firepower deployed against the covid virus—some £378 billion in this country alone, as of October’s Budget.

"Given the potential of AMR to equal or surpass what covid has done, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton mentioned, with the very plausible prediction of 10 million dead annually across the world by 2050, it seems reasonable to increase our national financial commitment now.

"With a much more significant—but still relatively small—investment, we can really make a difference."

Maggie Throup, Health and Social Care Minister, said in response that the Government is testing "a Netflix-style subscription model for antibiotics".

She said: "No new class of antibiotic has been developed since 1987, and the market for antimicrobials is broken, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said. To address that, we are testing a new Netflix-style subscription model for antibiotics—a world first. The economic model and evaluation reports for the two antimicrobials in the project have been completed, and the reports are currently undergoing consultation with registered stakeholders, including drug manufacturers. We hope that the first payments under the new model will be made in 2022."

She also told the debate: "As has been made clear in this debate, antimicrobial resistance is undoubtedly one of the most significant global health challenges that we face today. The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the substantial impact that major outbreaks of disease can have on society, endangering lives and disrupting public services and the economy. The threat of AMR is no different.

"Last year, in England alone, there were over 55,000 cases of resistant infections and more than 2,000 estimated deaths."

She added: "So what are the UK Government doing to tackle this risk? As Members have referenced, in January 2019 the Government set out the UK’s vision to contain and control AMR by 2040.

"That vision is supported by a five-year national action plan across the spectrum of human and animal health, agriculture, the environment and food. We are halfway through implementing our five-year action plan and have made considerable progress. We are committed to reducing the need for antimicrobials by lowering the burden of infection in our communities, in the NHS, on farms and in the environment—if you don’t get the bug, you don’t get the drug."

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