Antibiotics resistance crisis gives hip surgery lethal risk Infections that were once treatable are now killing thousands, warns Public Health England

By Henry Bodkin

HIP and knee operations are becoming “life-threatening” because of the rise of antibiotic resistance, a report by public heath officials warns today.

The Public Heath England (PHE) report says that common procedures carried out on around three million people a year are becoming increasingly dangerous.

It says that the number of people contracting once-treatable blood infections after operations has risen by 35 per cent, from 12,250 in 2013 to 16,504 in 2017. In total, 2,500 have died because the antibiotics, given to ward off infections post-op, no longer work.

The report says that the drugs are losing their potency because of overuse and says “three million common procedures such as caesarean sections and hip replacements could become life-threatening without them”.

PHE last night appealed to patients not to demand antibiotics in order to preserve the drugs’ integrity.

Paul Cosford, the PHE medical director, said: “We need to preserve antibiotics for when we really need them and we are calling on the public to join us in tackling resistance by listening to your GP or pharmacist’s advice and only taking antibiotics when necessary.

2,500

Number of people who have died because antibiotics, given to ward off infections after surgery, no longer work

“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.”

Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer, said: “The evidence is clear that without swift action to reduce infections, we are at risk 
of putting medicine back in the dark ages, where common procedures could become too dangerous to perform and treatable conditions become life-threatening.” More than nine million surgical procedures are performed in England each year, including 191,635 hip and knee operations in NHS hospitals last year. One in three requires antibiotics before or during surgery to prevent infections.

However, the National Institute for Care and Excellence believes that up to 10 million prescriptions – one in four – are unnecessary. GPs were responsible for 81 per cent of the antibiotics prescribed last year.

The drugs are also required for cancer patients as the disease and chemotherapy can reduce the immune system’s ability to fight infections.

There has been progress, however, with the number of prescriptions dispensed in primary care declining 13.2 per cent over the preceding five years.

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) occurs when bacteria and pathogens develop resistance to medicines used to attack them through spontaneous genetic mutation and natural selection. Some degree of resistance is inevitable, however the process has been dramatically worsened by profligate use of the drugs in both humans and animals.

No new class of antibiotics has been developed since the Seventies, and pharmaceutical companies are increasingly reluctant to invest in research and development.

Officials believe that at the current rate, 10 million people a year will die worldwide by 2050 due to AMR.

Grahame White