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Tackling antibiotic resistance

Published: 18 Nov 2015 00:01

Health Secretary calls for action to address global public health challenge

Tackling the over-consumption of antibiotics is one of the greatest public health challenges of this generation, Scotland's Health Secretary, Shona Robison, said today.

Marking European Antibiotic Awareness Day, Ms Robison said that the rise of drug-resistant infections is an issue that must be tackled in Scotland, and around the world.

Despite recent reductions in antibiotic prescribing in primary care in Scotland - which is estimated to account for 80 per cent of all antibiotic prescription - just over 4 million prescriptions were given out in the community in Scotland in 2014.

Today, the Health Secretary called on everyone in Scotland to play their part in reducing the unnecessary use of antibiotics.

Ms Robison said: "Antibiotic resistance is a very real and very present threat that we are determined to tackle. Inaction could mean the loss of effective antibiotics which could undermine our ability to fight infectious diseases.

"We must act now to reduce the unnecessary prescribing of antibiotics and we all have our part to play in that – whether as a patient or as a medical professional.

"Action is also needed at a local, national and global level to firstly improve the knowledge and understanding of antimicrobial resistance, secondly conserve and steward the effectiveness of existing treatments and thirdly stimulate the development of new antibiotics, diagnostics and therapies.

"In Scotland we are taking our role seriously. In March we announced a £4.2 million research grant to investigate the prevention and control of healthcare-associated infections, as well as researching new ways of using existing antibiotics more effectively and efficiently. This will be led by a consortium of Scottish researchers and universities.

"Our world-leading Scottish Patient Safety Programme has seen infection rates in our hospitals plummet - with an 88 per cent reduction in cases of MRSA and an 84 per cent reduction in cases of C.Diff in patients over 65 since 2007.

"And the latest figures for 2014 show a 1.9 per cent fall in one year in the number of antibiotics prescribed in primary care – a reduction of 54,000 items compared to 2013.

"However we must go further. We must tackle over-consumption of antibiotics and address this greatest of public health challenges head on."

The Health Secretary will today visit NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde's new state-of-the art microbiology laboratories at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital. The service diagnoses infection in patients using many highly complex and specialised methods. Microscopic films, bacterial cultures and test results are analysed and reported and clinicians use those results to treat infectious disease in patients.

In excess of 1.3 million samples per annum are processed in the laboratories across the three sites (380,000 at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital) which are staffed by medical staff, healthcare scientists, clinical support workers and administration staff.

Ms Robison will also meet staff involved in the use of diagnostics – which is central to the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

She will inspect a new piece of equipment used by NHS Greater Glasgow & Clyde, the MALDI-TOF, which uses Mass Spectrometry to give an accurate identification of an organism from a colony on a culture plate and takes only 20 minutes, bypassing biochemical identification methods which can take 24 hours.

This allows microbiologists to rapidly diagnose and identify the organism causing the infection, aiding the choice of antibiotic. Rapid diagnostics is one of the key actions identified to help stop the unnecessary use of antibiotics in a report by Treasury economist Jim O'Neill, who is leading a review into antibiotic resistance for the UK Government.

During the visit, Ms Robison also pledged to be an Antibiotic Guardian – a scheme run by a joint UK initiative to encourage everyone to become an Antibiotic Guardian through making a personal pledge.

As part of European Antibiotic Awareness Day, the Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG) alongside UK partners have launched a target to have 100,000 people sign up to become an Antibiotic Guardian. This includes one in ten prescribers, and one in 100 other healthcare professionals.

The Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG) lead on the co-ordination and delivery of a national framework for antimicrobial stewardship They work closely with clinical staff in NHS boards and with public partners to promote the safe and effective use of antibiotics both in hospital and primary care.

Notes to editors

This year's European Antibiotic Awareness Day (EAAD) campaign, takes place on Wednesday 18 November. The campaign asks both the public and healthcare professionals to make a personal pledge to become an "Antibiotic Guardian", help reduce unnecessary use of antibiotics and raise awareness that antibiotics should not be used for coughs and colds.

A range of pledges for various healthcare professionals and vets can be found at, together with pledges for families, pet owners and farmers.