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Campaign urges people in the West Midlands region to keep antibiotics working

A new report from PHE out today reveals that 4 in 10 patients with an E. coli bloodstream infection in England cannot be treated with the most commonly used antibiotic in hospital with it being estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections.

The 'Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign warns that taking antibiotics when not needed puts people at risk of a more severe or longer infection.

As the Chief Medical Officer and experts around the world warn of a “post-antibiotic apocalypse” and “the end of modern medicine”, Public Health England launches a major new campaign in the West Midlands region to help ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’. The campaign warns people that taking antibiotics when they are not needed puts them at risk of a more severe or longer infection, and urges people to take their doctor’s advice on antibiotics. 

Public Health England’s ESPAUR report, published today, reveals that as antibiotic resistance grows, the options for treatment decrease. Worryingly, 4 in 10 patients with an E. coli bloodstream infection in England cannot be treated with the most commonly used antibiotic in hospitals.

Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia and sepsis, 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. It is estimated that at least 5,000 deaths are caused every year in England because antibiotics no longer work for some infections and this figure is set to rise with experts predicting that in just over 30 years antibiotic resistance will kill more people than cancer and diabetes combined.

The ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ campaign urges people in the West Midlands region to always trust their doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice as to when they need antibiotics and if they are prescribed, take antibiotics as directed and never save them for later use or share them with others. The campaign also provides effective self-care advice to help individuals and their families feel better if they are not prescribed antibiotics.

Dr Musarrat Afza, PHE West Midlands health protection consultant, said:Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, such as meningitis, pneumonia, but they are frequently used inappropriately for illnesses on which they have no effect – such as colds and flu, which are caused by viruses. Many viral infections are ‘self-limiting’, which means they will resolve by themselves, and the person with the illness can just treat symptoms of aching, soreness, headaches and slightly raised temperature with over-the-counter remedies. For a more serious viral illness, an anti-viral medicine may be given – but not antibiotics.

“Taking antibiotics, when you don’t need them means they could be less effective in fighting the next bacterial infection you get. Over-use of antibiotics gives rise to more and more resistant strains of bacterial infections, and this may eventually result in a world where our antibiotics simply can’t cure people anymore. So, to ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ for you and your family, always take your doctor’s advice.”

Within the West Midlands, work is underway to educate children and young people about the importance of antimicrobial resistance, with a partnership between NHS Birmingham CrossCity Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust (HEFT), Aston University, Birmingham City Council and Public Health England (PHE). In advance of PHE’s Keep Antibiotics Working campaign, a  poster competition is being run for school children in Birmingham and the surrounding areas. There are two categories; for pupils from primary schools in years 3 to 6, and students in all years at secondary school. Posters must show why it’s important to ‘Keep Antibiotics Working’ and incorporate some of the key messages, such as washing hands and only using antibiotics when prescribed. The deadline for submissions is Friday 27 October, and prizes will be awarded to the winners of each category. Copies of the two winning posters will be circulated to healthcare professionals within Birmingham for display.

Rakhi Aggarwal, Antibiotic Lead Pharmacist at NHS Birmingham CrossCity CCG, said: “We were very excited to be a partner in this innovative project. The children and young people of today will be greatly affected by the consequences of antimicrobial resistance, if we can’t keep antibiotics working. We feel that it is very important that their voices are heard, to highlight the need for the appropriate use of antimicrobial drugs from a different perspective. We hope that the competition entrants have enjoyed unleashing their creative talents, to highlight this vital public health message. By educating Birmingham’s children and young people, we hope that the important message about antimicrobial resistance will also be shared with their families and friends.”

Public Health England’s new campaign is part of a wider cross-Government strategy, involving the agricultural, pharmaceutical and healthcare sectors, which tackles the threat of antibiotic resistance by increasing supply and reducing inappropriate demand. To help keep this precious resource in the fight against infections working, the public are asked to play their part and urged to always take their doctor, nurse or pharmacist’s advice on antibiotics. 

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