It is a pleasure, Mrs Main, to serve under your chairmanship. I will make a short speech, and allow as much time as possible for interventions.
Clearly, everyone is concerned about the rise in the number of cases of bacterial infection, whether campylobacter, MRSA or blood poisoning from E. coli, cases of which have increased by nearly 400% in the last 20 years. What makes the problem so much more alarming is the accompanying rise in resistance to those infections. As the Minister will know, antibiotic resistance is a growing worldwide problem. We cannot yet call it a crisis in the UK, but some indications are ominous, particularly as no new antibiotics are in the development pipeline to treat some important infections. It should be noted that, when resistance problems occur, the cost to the NHS of successfully treating a patient may increase between 10 and 100 times.
The Government’s assessment is that most of the resistance problems that affect UK patients can be blamed on the inappropriate use of antibiotics in human medicine. I am sure that is true, but the antibiotics used in veterinary and human medicine are closely related, and a growing body of evidence indicates that, for some serious infections, the inappropriate use of antibiotics on farms leads to the development of resistance among farm animals that can and does pass to humans. Sir Liam Donaldson, former chief medical officer, starkly acknowledged that in his annual report three years ago in 2009, when he said of antibiotics:
“every inappropriate or unnecessary use in animals or agriculture is potentially signing a death warrant for a future patient.”
For far too long, the link between the overuse and misuse of antibiotics in intensive farming and the serious threat from antibiotic resistance have been utterly ignored. For example, although I welcomed last year’s public warning from the current chief medical officer—
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
On resuming —