Start the war on serious superbugs

Monday 29 September 2014

Antibiotics work. But not for much longer. Every year more and more bugs evolve into new resistant strains and what are we doing about it?

Nothing, except trying to persuade people to avoid visiting their GP, to slow the rise of so-called superbugs.

The refusal of major drugs companies to commit funds to developing new antibiotics is approaching a global scandal. So is the foot-dragging of governments to subsidise such research.

This week something called Public Health England (no, me neither) said it wants every patient to take a series of pledges aimed at stopping them taking antibiotics. For example, they are urging people to promise not to see a doctor if they fall ill.

PHE also plan to tell GPs to declare pledges of their own, along the lines of: ‘I will discuss methods of controlling symptoms rather than prescribing antibiotics.’

Oh, sure. So next time you go down with tonsillitis you should stay at home for a few days with a raging sore throat and fever before tottering down to the surgery to ask for some penicillin. At which point your doctor solemnly quotes the pledge he or she has taken and suggests you take some aspirin washed down with lots of iced water. Which you explain you have been doing and it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference so can you just have a bloody prescription, please?

PHE anticipate this. They suggest something called ‘back up’ prescriptions, which can only be redeemed after several days, giving the patient time to self-cure.

Imagine taking a screaming infant, in agony with an ear infection, to your GP only to be given a post-dated prescription. You want to give your doc a pre-dated punch.

PHE say five days is enough time for most minor problems to have passed but short enough not to delay the treatment of serious problems. The head of what’s grandly called the ‘Antibiotic Guardian’ scheme, Dr Ashiru-Oredope (nope, again, me neither) says doctors need to be more direct about the dangers of antibiotic resistance.

‘They should say that it is personal. It is you, your family and friends. The reality is, it really does affect individuals.’

No-one doubts that, doc. But I agree with Roger Goss of Patient Concern, who branded the initiative as ‘a complete waste of time’, while wholly agreeing with the importance of fighting antibiotic resistance.

And there’s the rub. There IS a looming problem here (David Cameron has rightly warned that the rise of superbugs ‘could cast us all back to the dark ages’). But telling people to suffer in silence when they KNOW they are infected, or ordering doctors to send patients home with crossed fingers and not much else, is pure pie in the sky.

I repeat. Governments and drug companies need to get their act together. We need a properly-funded research programme to develop a whole new family of medicines that zap infections. Put that in the election manifesto whether you’re Cameron, Clegg or Miliband, and you’ve got my vote.

Read Richard and Judy's Daily Express column in full here.