Thank you for contacting me about antimicrobial resistance (AMR).
The rise and spread of AMR is creating a new generation of medicine-resistant superbugs and, left unchecked, the impact of these superbugs would be wide ranging and highly damaging to global health and to socio-economic development. I agree with you that this issue should be taken extremely seriously and I particularly welcome the work of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Antibiotics in this area. Parliament also debated this issue in Westminster Hall in 2021.
I know that my colleagues across government recognise the importance of addressing AMR. In 2019, the UK 20-Year Vision for AMR was published, outlining a range of targets and three key methods for tackling the issue. This included reducing the need for, and unintentional exposure to, antimicrobials; optimising the use of antimicrobials; and investing in innovation, supply and access. More information on the 20-year plan is available here:
Alongside this, a five-year national action plan was released in May 2022, aiming to build on achievements to date. The plan is now in its third year of delivery and changes were made to provide more specific and measurable commitments and reflect lessons learned from the Covid-19 pandemic. Amendments also reflect work towards new sector targets as well as the progress made in reducing antibiotic prescriptions in food-producing animals. The aim is to ensure that antimicrobial resistance is controlled and contained by 2040.
To this end, the Government recently launched a consultation to inform the next stage of tackling antimicrobial resistance, including the next 5-year national action plan to protect patients from deadly infections. The consultation was accepting evidence until 20 January 2023. The Government is analysing responses and will respond in due course.
No new class of antibiotic has been developed since 1987, and I know the Government recognises that the market is broken. The development of antibiotics is not commercially attractive. It is linked to high costs and low returns because novel antibiotics are reserved for more serious and difficult-to-treat infections and so are not being used as much as other drugs.
To tackle this, the Government is testing a new subscription model for antibiotics with the NHS paying two pharmaceutical companies up-front for access to two antimicrobials. Instead of reimbursing pharmaceutical companies based on the quantity of antibiotics sold, guaranteed payments at fair rates will provide the life sciences sector with the security to develop new and effective drugs and ensure that medicines can be provided quickly for NHS patients. I await further developments with interest.