Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) has been a growing issue of global health concern over the past few decades. The UK is facing a concerning surge in antimicrobial resistance, as revealed by the latest national surveillance data presented at the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) annual conference in November 2023. Despite antibiotic use in England declining from 2014 to 2020, the latest surveillance data shows a reversal of this downward trend, with an increase in both the frequency of antibiotic-resistant infections and related deaths between 2021 and 2022.
Antibiotic resistance has been accelerated by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics, as well as poor implementation of infection prevention and control. Individuals infected with bacteria resistant to one or more antibiotics face graver risks, including a higher likelihood of mortality, compared to those with antibiotic-sensitive infections. Consequently, it is imperative to exercise caution and take antibiotics only when prescribed and deemed necessary for the specific condition. The misuse of antibiotics not only jeopardises individual health but also collectively endangers public health, demanding a concerted effort to reverse the current trajectory of rising antimicrobial resistance in the UK.
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Action Plan on Antimicrobial Resistance aims to optimise the use of antimicrobial medicines, strengthen surveillance and research, improve understanding of AMR, and reduce the incidence of infection.
There are various measures that can be taken across society to reduce the impact of AMR and limit the spread of resistance. At the individual level, antibiotics should only be used when prescribed by a health professional and the course should be taken to completion. Additionally, good hygiene behaviour – for example, hand washing, practising safer sex, and keeping vaccinations up to date – is critical to preventing the spread of infections. Further to this, it is the responsibility of healthcare professionals to report antibiotic-resistant infections to surveillance teams, discuss appropriate usage of antibiotics and the dangers of misuse with patients, and only prescribe antibiotics when necessary, according to current guidelines.
The latest national surveillance data from UKHSA shows that an estimated 58,224 people in England had an antibiotic-resistant infection in 2022. This is up by 4%, with 55,792 infections recorded in 2021. There was also a 4.4% increase in deaths due to severe antibiotic-resistant infections over the same period (from 2,110 to 2,202). These figures align with total prescribing rates, which increased post-pandemic by 8.4% in 2022 compared to 2021. These statistics underscore the urgency of addressing antibiotic resistance, as it jeopardises the effectiveness of critical treatments for life-threatening conditions including bloodstream infections. According to GlobalData’s forecast, in 2023 there are estimated to be over 42,200 hospitalised incident cases of MRSA in the UK, with this figure increasing at an annual growth rate of 0.51%. This trend of a growing trend of AMR is concerning, considering how critical antibiotics are as a first-line treatment for many infections. In light of rising resistance in the UK and other areas of the world, it is ever more important during this World Antibiotic Awareness Week (18-24 November) to encourage best practices among the general public, the healthcare industry, and policymakers to limit the further spread of antimicrobial-resistant pathogens.
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