Antimicrobial Resistance: How Big a Threat?

Antimicrobial resistance (AR) has been a topic that has come up a lot in recent times, and has again hit the headlines amongst fears that drug resistant infections could kill ‘more than cancer’ by 2050.

Analysis commissioned by the government and conducted by economist Jim O’Neill, Rand Europe and auditors at KPMG predicted that if measures weren’t taken to find replacement drugs, AR could cause 500,000 deaths a year by 2050.  The biggest threats are drug-resistant strains of E. Coli, malaria and tuberculosis.

A report by the World Health Organisation already warned that increasing numbers of AR cases are being seen across the world, presenting a very real threat to the ability to treat common infections and minor injuries. 

With the NHS already stretched, the impact of antimicrobial resistance on hospitals could be devastating if effective measures are not put in place soon. 

Increased levels of staffing.  With the NHS already stretched to its limits, it is a scary prospect to think how hospitals would cope if minor infections became life threatening and had to be treated in hospital due to antibiotic resistance.  Infectious diseases would be extremely difficult to contain since patients would remain infectious for longer – increasing both time needed in hospital and the chances of spreading the disease to others.  This would also mean that minor ailments and conditions such as urinary tract infections that are typically diagnosed and treated by GPs, would have to be treated by hospital doctors who are already in short supply.  Furthermore, AR would mean that surgeon’s jobs would become even riskier, since surgical infections would become a much greater threat.

Increased costs of healthcare.  In addition to the increased costs of staffing, resources and facilities required for treating higher numbers of patients for longer – the costs of treatment would escalate significantly.   Antibiotics are extremely cost-effective and have been prescribed by doctors since the 1930’s.  However, if they were to be rendered ineffective, doctors would have no option but to prescribe more expensive alternatives.

Despite the government putting measures in place to stop some of the contributory factors speeding up antimicrobial resistance – over-prescription of antibiotics in particular  – antibiotic prescriptions were actually 10% higher between 2011-2013 than they were in 2010, showing that there is still a lot more to be done.  

RIG Locums is a leading supplier of locum doctors to the NHS.  If you need help finding your next locum job, contact our friendly team today on 0800 690 6044.