Antimicrobial Resistance

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:42 pm on 17 April 2024.

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Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Health and Social Care, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Business and Trade) (Minister for Women) 4:42, 17 April 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Dowd. I thank my hon. Friend Will Quince for securing today’s debate, for his contribution to the Department of Health and Social Care during his tenure as a Minister and, in particular, for his work on this issue.

This is a pivotal year for confronting antimicrobial resistance, because the emergence of resistant infections is relentless and, as my hon. Friend eloquently described, the pipeline for new antibiotics is running dry. The evidence is stark, not just domestically but globally: more than 1 million people die every year from infections that have become resistant to treatment. To put that number in context, that exceeds the number of people who die from HIV or malaria.

AMR is sometimes described as an ignored pandemic, but if we do not act, the cost of treating resistant infections could compare to having a pandemic such as covid-19 every five years. My hon. Friend is absolutely correct to say that, if we were to walk outside this place, many of the people we talked to would not understand what AMR is or appreciate the consequences of not dealing with it domestically or internationally. That is why we are committed to addressing antimicrobial resistance.

My hon. Friend is also right that in 2019 we published our vision for antimicrobial resistance to be contained and controlled by 2040, and that date looms ever closer. That vision recognises that it is a complex problem. There are three tiers to the way we are tackling it. First, we must lower the burden of infection in humans and—my hon. Friend touched on this slightly—in animals: if you do not get the bug, you will not need the drug.

Secondly, we must use antimicrobials only when they are absolutely needed, and we should use them correctly. That is also true for both people and animals, as I will touch on in a moment. Thirdly, we must develop new antibiotics or new technologies to treat these infections so that we have more tools in our armoury as resistance emerges.

We can all play our part. I make a public health plea to everyone: we all have a responsibility to finish courses of antibiotics prescribed to us—often, we do not finish our course, because we feel better and think there is no need to take the rest of it, but that is a key way of developing resistance—and not to self-medicate after keeping the strip, which is equally harmful. There are bad practices in other countries, but we all have a responsibility to take our antibiotics as prescribed, and not to self-medicate, should we have some antibiotics looming in our cupboards.