Without antibiotics, treatments from minor surgery to major transplants could become impossible, and health-care costs are likely to spiral as we resort to newer, more expensive antibiotics and sustain longer hospital admissions.”
Strategies to combat the rise in resistance include cutting the amount of antibiotics prescribed, improving hospital hygiene and incentivising the pharmaceutical industry to work on novel antibiotics and antibiotic alternatives.
However, a leading GP told The Independent on Sunday that the time had come for the general public to take responsibility. “The change needs to come in patient expectation. We need public education: that not every ill needs a pill,” said Dr Peter Swinyard, chairman of the Family Doctor Association.
“We try hard not to prescribe, but it’s difficult in practice. The patient will be dissatisfied with your consultation, and is likely to vote with their feet, register somewhere else or go to the walk-in centre and get antibiotics from the nurse.
“But if we go into a post-antibiotic phase, we may find that people with pneumonia will not be treatable with an antibiotic, and will die, whereas at the moment they would live.
“People need to realise the link. If you treat little Johnny’s ear infection with antibiotics, his mummy may end up dying of pneumonia. It’s stark and it’s, of course, not direct, but on a population-wide level, that’s the kind of link we’re talking about.”
There are no reliable estimates of what resistance could cost health systems in the future, but the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control believes that €1.5bn (£1.2bn) a year is already being spent on health problems associated with antibiotic resistance in Europe.
Joanna Coast, professor of health economics at the University of Birmingham, said that the problem of resistance had the potential to “affect how entire health systems work”.
Professor Coast added: “We don’t know how big this is going to be. It’s like the problems with planning for global warming. We know what the costs are now but we don’t know what the costs will be into the future.
“Much of what we do in modern health system relies on us having antibiotics. We need them for prophylaxis for surgery, for people having chemotherapy for cancer. The worry is that it might make big changes to how we run our health system.”
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