A change in culture and action is needed to plan for a future with more antibiotic resistance, researchers suggest.
Their warning comes as the Chief Medical Officer Dame Sally Davies launches the UK’s Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy and Action Plan, reflecting the need for a clear change in our understanding of and response to antimicrobial resistance by the public, NHS and government.
Current estimates suggest that antibiotic resistance is a relatively cheap problem, but such estimates do not take account of the fact that antimicrobial medicines are integral to modern healthcare.
For example, antibiotics are given as standard to patients undergoing surgery, to women delivering by caesarean section, and to those having cancer treatment.
“From cradle to grave, antimicrobials have become pivotal in safeguarding the overall health of human societies,” they wrote.
Although it is difficult to forecast the likely economic burden of resistance, they believe that even the highest current cost estimates “provide false reassurance” and this may mean that inadequate attention and resources are devoted to resolving the problem.
For example, current infection rates for patients undergoing hip replacement are 0.5-2 percent.
So most patients recover without infection, and those who have an infection have it successfully treated.
But the authors estimate that, without antibiotics, the rate of postoperative infection could be 40-50 percent and about 30 percent of those with an infection could die.
While they recognise that this is a simplistic analysis, they say “we use it as an example to illustrate and provoke, to emphasise the point that infection rates and their consequences in terms of health service costs and human health may be unimaginable.”