Call to help the NHS protect antibiotics

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Over three million surgical operations and cancer treatments a year in England may become life-threatening without antibiotics

We all need to do our bit to protect our antibiotics. And they need protecting. Research shows that over 3 million surgeries and cancer treatments could become life threatening if we do not act.

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign aims to alert the public to the risks of antibiotic resistance, urging all of us to always take their doctor, nurse or healthcare professional’s advice on antibiotics.

Procedures such as caesarean sections and hip replacements could become life-threatening without antibiotics; infections related to surgery could double, putting people at risk of dangerous complications.

Cancer patients are also much more vulnerable if antibiotics don’t work; both cancer and the treatment (chemotherapy) reduce the ability of the immune system to fight infections. Antibiotics are critical to both prevent and treat infections in these patients.

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, but they are frequently being used to treat illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves. Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them.

The threat of antibiotic resistance continues to grow. Antibiotic resistant bloodstream infections rose by an by around 35% between 2013 and 2017. Despite the risks of antibiotic resistance, research shows that 38% of people still expect an antibiotic from a from a GP or health professional when they visited with a cough, flu or a throat, ear, sinus or chest infection in 2017.

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign hopes to persuade all of us to take our health professionals’ advice and not to seek antibiotics when we don’t need them. The campaign also encourages us to self-care for mild conditions that can be treated at home.

Professor Paul Cosford, Medical Director, Public Health England said:

“Antibiotics are an essential part of modern medicine, keeping people safe from infection when they are at their most vulnerable. It’s concerning that, in the not too distant future, we may see more cancer patients, mothers who’ve had caesareans and patients who’ve had other surgery facing life threatening situations if antibiotics fail to ward off infections.

“We need to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them and we are calling on the public to join us in tackling antibiotic resistance by listening to your GP, pharmacist or nurse’s advice and only taking antibiotics when necessary. Taking antibiotics just in case may seem like a harmless act but it can have grave consequences for you and your family’s health in future.”

For more information on protecting antibiotics, visit the Antibiotic Guardian website. See the websites below for further information on self care: