World Antibiotics Awareness Week — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:14 pm on 16th November 2017.

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Photo of Patrick Grady Patrick Grady SNP Chief Whip 2:14 pm, 16th November 2017

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. At relatively short notice I am standing in for my hon. Friend Martyn Day, who is not very well. I am not certain of the cause of his illness, but I am sure that if he is seeking advice, he will rightly be following the guidance of the theme of World Antibiotics Awareness Week, which states:

“Seek advice from a qualified healthcare professional before taking antibiotics”.

He will also be taking the advice, as I am sure will everyone else, of my hon. Friend Dr Whitford, who has been impressing on us the importance of the flu jab. I can testify to the medicinal qualities of a hot toddy, from time to time, but in the careful context of appropriate medication with appropriate medical advice.

I congratulate Julian Sturdy on securing this debate, which gives us an important opportunity to reflect on the issue of antimicrobial resistance and the importance of being aware of the challenges. It is a timely debate, taking place during the World Antibiotics Awareness Week. Any kind of awareness week has a number of important consequences. In this context, improving the understanding of the risks faced, which we have heard clearly from other hon. Members, is key, as is presenting an opportunity to take action in response to the challenges presented.

The challenge is very clear and came through in all the speeches. Theresa Villiers made it clear how difficult it is to overemphasise the scale of the challenge and the risk we face. Some 700,000 deaths a year are attributable to infections from superbugs that are resistant to antibiotics, and that figure is predicted, as we have heard, to rise to almost 10 million in total by 2050.

There are huge challenges in the livestock and veterinary sector as well. I was interested to hear that academics from the University of Glasgow in my constituency are among those taking the lead. I will say a wee bit more about what the university is doing shortly.

As Jeremy Lefroy has said, the issue also has a big impact on developing countries, where people require access to medicines and the challenge of resistance is huge, and it threatens the progress made in health and tackling poverty. Being aware of the huge risks and then using that as a motivation to action is one of the key opportunities presented by awareness week.

I will reflect briefly on the Scottish Government’s actions. A large amount of health policy is devolved, but there are good examples and good practice on which we can reflect. In March the Scottish Government announced a £4.2 million research grant to investigate the prevention and control of healthcare-associated infections, as well as to research new ways of using existing antibiotics more effectively and efficiently. Some of that funding was provided to a consortium of researchers led, as I have said, by the University of Glasgow in my constituency, working with other Scottish universities to establish a new Scottish Healthcare Associated Infection Prevention Institute, which will conduct important research, bringing together a range of academics, researchers, practitioners and so on.

The Scottish Government have also established the Scottish antimicrobial resistance and healthcare-associated infections strategic framework for between 2016 and 2021. It has a number of aims to do with the containment of antimicrobial resistance; advancing scientific knowledge and innovation; improving efficiency, transparency and accountability; and improved workforce capability. That is important for all environments where healthcare is delivered, such as care homes, community pharmacies and primary care, and for everyone involved in the delivery of care.

There are a number of things we can all do at an individual level. There was a debate in March, I think on the broader issue of antimicrobial resistance, during which we were encouraged to become an antibiotic guardian. In fact, when the sitting was suspended for a Division in the House, many of us signed up online. The number of people signing up to that campaign continues to grow and this is another important opportunity to encourage others to do so. The Scottish Health Secretary, Shona Robison, has pledged to join the scheme and to encourage as many people as possible to do so in order to reach the target of 100,000 people becoming an antibiotic guardian.

This debate has shown that the Government have some challenges and opportunities. Are we ensuring that the right levels of investment are being channelled through the right Departments? The importance of joined-up government across Departments, including DEFRA, DFID and the NHS, has been made clear in this afternoon’s speeches. Towards the end of his remarks, the hon. Member for Stafford touched on the issue of a joined-up global response. There is a sense in some quarters that Brexit might represent some sort of retreat from the world stage. Yet the Government’s response to the O’Neill report in 2016 clearly stated that a global response, including “working closely with Europe”, is required. How do they see that relationship with European institutions in the context of Brexit? How can we be sure that the bonfire of red tape and regulation that so many Brexiteers have dreamed of for so many years will not weaken those efforts? We have already heard about the possibility of chlorine-washed chicken and so on coming into the United Kingdom as a result of potential trade deals with the United States. How can we make sure that meat that comes in as a result of new trade deals is not absolutely overloaded with antibiotics and other treatments that could lead to increased antimicrobial resistance?

In conclusion, this is a significant challenge and awareness is important. Awareness weeks, debates such as this, and the antibiotic guardian scheme play a very important role in tackling some of the challenges. I was interested to hear about the Swab and Send initiative and am keen to sign up to it. I can think of several dusty corners, not just in this Chamber but elsewhere in the Palace of Westminster, where who knows what might be discovered. I think that is a challenge to us all.

We know that there are models out there that can work. The hon. Gentleman spoke about a number of them and some of the many positive actions taken to tackle malaria, as well as the challenges that remain in closing the final gap. The other day I attended an interesting meeting between DFID officials and the all-party parliamentary group on vaccinations for all. We looked at the impact of the near eradication of polio and the challenges that will present for other schemes in the future. Some of the infrastructures that have been built up to deliver that historic achievement of the eradication of polio can perhaps be adapted to meet other healthcare challenges. I am not by any means an expert, but perhaps this is one of those areas.

It is clear from this debate that we can all play our part, and it is also important that the Government lead by example. Once again, I congratulate the hon. Member for York Outer on securing this debate and I look forward to the Government’s response.