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Government announces first special envoy on antimicrobial resistance

Professor Dame Sally Davies has been announced as the UK’s first special envoy on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), in a bid to ramp up the efforts in the global fight. 

She will be working across all sectors, including health, agriculture and the environment, to implement a ‘One Health’ response to AMR.

Dame Sally is currently chief medical officer for England, but will be succeeded by Professor Chris Whitty in September. In her additional role as co-convenor for the Interagency Coordination Group on AMR, she has experience of advising the UN, previously deeming AMR ‘as big a threat as climate change’. 

She said: ‘AMR is a complex challenge which needs local, national and global action. The UK should be proud of its world-leading work on AMR. We have made tangible progress but it is essential we maintain momentum.

‘I am honoured to have been asked to continue this vital work on behalf of the UK Government.’

Last year, the Government committed £32 million to accelerate the UK’s work on this topic, with ten research centres using the funding to explore how to inform prescribing and identify patterns of resistance.

Financial support will also facilitate the development of a virtual ‘open access’ centre that will link health outcomes and prescribing data, and Public Health England (PHE) are due to lead the technology to gather real-time patient data on resistant infections. This aims to assist GPs in making more targeted choices about when to prescribe antibiotics.

Public health minister Seema Kennedy said: ‘Antibiotic resistance poses an enormous risk to our NHS – we are already seeing the harmful effect resistant bugs can have on patient safety in our hospitals. It is vital that we retain the irreplaceable expertise of Professor Dame Sally Davies – an international expert in AMR – and continue to invest in research.

‘This funding to prop up the facilities for novel ideas and technologies, supported by the continued leadership of Dame Sally, will play a vital role in helping us to tackle this threat.’

PHE antibiotics lead Dr Susan Hopkins exclusively told Pulse that while we as a nation are ‘lower antibiotics users than we were almost a decade ago’, PHE ‘want GPs to reduce antibiotics prescriptions by a further 15% from now’, a sentiment echoed by health secretary Matt Hancock. 

PHE will use £5m in funding to develop the first fully functional model ward in the UK to improve understanding on how hospital facilities can be designed to improve infection control.

Elsewhere, the University of Manchester has been granted £4.4m to test individualised approaches to antibiotic prescribing by uniting patient care with clinical research, and the University of Liverpool received £3.5m to enable more personalised antibiotic prescribing via genome sequencing. 

Earlier this year, the Government also shared, via its 20-year vision and five-year national action plan, how the UK will contribute to containing and controlling AMR by 2040.

The most recent commitment has been welcomed by the RCGP. Chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said: ‘Growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics is a global health threat, and one that risks dramatically reversing decades of progress in modern medicine if considerable efforts are not made to curb it.

‘GPs and our teams are already doing an excellent job of restricting the use of antibiotics and will only prescribe them if they believe, in their expert opinion, that they are the most appropriate treatment option for the person sitting in front of them.’