Antimicrobial Resistance

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall am 4:25 pm ar 17 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Will Quince Will Quince Ceidwadwyr, Colchester 4:25, 17 Ebrill 2024

The hon. Gentleman makes a valuable point; he is absolutely right that we need to readdress our approach to antibiotics. Yes, there is a role for clinicians in that. A 10-minute slot is not a lot of time to diagnose. Lots of people will go to see their doctor and the first thing they will say is, “I have an infection; I need antibiotics.” That may not be the case, and we have to trust clinicians. The Government’s new Pharmacy First initiative, which pharmacists take seriously, has strict controls and surveillance around the use of antibiotics; the UK Government and the Department of Health and Social Care take that incredibly seriously.

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to allude to the fact—and this is what worries me—that, in many countries around the world, antibiotics are available off the shelf, in the same way that paracetamol or ibuprofen are. I will not name the country, but I spoke to the Health Secretary of a particular country in Africa, who said that people routinely keep antibiotics in their medicine cupboard at home; if they feel unwell, they will take a few. That causes huge problems. We need an enormous awareness campaign and education piece around antibiotics, because their use may be harming us all in the medium to long term.

I also want to touch on the Government’s Newton fund, which has supported more than 70 research teams to conduct crucial research on strategic areas, including AMR. Through the brilliant Fleming Fund, the Government have invested £265 million to support countries around the globe to generate, share and use data on AMR. I am proud that that is the world’s single largest aid investment in AMR surveillance. I also must not fail to mention the role played by Dame Sally Davies, who is the UK’s special envoy on antimicrobial resistance. At the WHA and the UN General Assembly, I saw at first hand Dame Sally’s global leadership and how widely respected she is on the world stage on this issue. We are very lucky to have her.

Internationally, there is movement. I welcome the landmark 2015 WHO global action plan on AMR, which was followed in 2016 by the historic UN declaration on AMR and, more recently, the one health global leaders group on AMR, founded just a handful of years ago to provide leadership and maintain political momentum on the issue. But I believe the issue is so serious that more urgent and immediate action needs to be taken. As I said to Jim Shannon, we know there are countries where antibiotics are routinely kept in cupboards and medicine drawers at home and taken when people feel unwell. We know there are countries where antibiotics can be purchased over the counter or online without seeing a doctor or physician. My question to the Minister is what action could and should we be taking?

I think we need a significant domestic and international awareness and understanding campaign on AMR. We need the Governments in our respective nations to understand the risks of failure. We need the public to understand the impact on them and their families, and the urgency of the situation: we want them to be the ones calling for action. We need to do more to promote appropriate and adequate global surveillance for AMR to detect and strengthen our knowledge and evidential base. Incidentally, doing that will also help with identifying potential future pandemics, so there is a dual benefit.

We need to work towards an international agreement on common evidence-based goals, and support other countries to deliver against them. We have to use our official development assistance—our overseas aid budget —to help reduce the incidence of infection through effective sanitation, hygiene and infection prevention measures. To the best of our ability, we need to use the UK’s political positions on international platforms and our soft power, including our ODA spend, and of course the formidable Dame Sally Davies and our UK expertise, to continue to provide global leadership on AMR. I hope the Minister will commit to supporting and continuing to fund the work of the World Health Organisation on AMR.

I hope that in the short time available to me—I appreciate that it was shorter because I was racing to get here in time following the votes—I have been able to set out why antimicrobial resistance is the issue that concerned me most when I was Minister of State at the Department of Health and Social Care and why it continues to concern me on my glide path out of politics. I genuinely think it should greatly concern us all. I hope the Minister and future Ministers will continue to keep the issue front of mind and treat tackling it with the urgency and seriousness it deserves.