Pharmacist warns it 'may take celebrity death' to highlight threat of antibiotic resistance

Dr Kieran HandA leading pharmacist based at Southampton’s teaching hospitals has warned it may take the death of a celebrity to highlight the dangers of increasing antibiotic resistance in the UK.

Dr Kieran Hand, a consultant pharmacist in anti-infectives at Southampton General Hospital, spoke out following the publication of chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies’ annual report, for which he co-authored the chapter on antibiotic resistance.

With many antibiotics currently prescribed and used for mild infections, such as sore throats and colds, patients in hospital who develop complex infections such as kidney and bloodstream infections are becoming increasingly resistant to treatment.

“I see patients with infections caused by multi-resistant microorganisms on ward rounds every week and we are resorting to older, less effective, more toxic antibiotics in many cases – sometimes importing unlicensed experimental drugs from overseas,” said Dr Hand, who was one of the country’s first specialist pharmacists in the treatment of drug-resistant infections.

Although deaths from infectious diseases have declined over the past 20 years due to improvements in hygiene and immunisation, they still account for 7% of all deaths in England.

“Infectious diseases has long been neglected as a medical specialty and research into new antibiotics is currently alarmingly underfunded, but perhaps it will take the tragic untimely death of a celebrity to awaken the general public and our politicians to the threat we are facing.”

Following release of her report today (Monday), Dame Sally said that routine operations could become deadly within 20 years if action is not taken to bring new drugs to the market and suggested antibiotic resistance should be ranked alongside terrorism in the national risk register.

Dr Hand and his fellow authors, who include chief pharmaceutical officer Dr Keith Ridge, have also called for a global effort to tackle the issue and much improved and better-supported awareness campaigns to better engage members of the public, NHS managers and clinicians with the subject.

While cases of superbug MRSA in UK hospitals have fallen by 80% since 2003, other hospital-acquired infections, including E.coli and Klebsiella, which are commonly found in the intestines but can cause blood infections, have increased by 75%.

Dr Hand added: “Sadly, while everyone focused on fighting MRSA and Clostridium difficile and keeping the negative headlines away, other infections have crept through the back door and these are just the tip of the iceberg.”

Posted on Monday 11 March 2013