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Greater use of diagnostic tests to help tackle antimicrobial resistance is required

Greater use of diagnostic tests to help distinguish between bacterial and viral infections will be key to tackling antibiotic resistance, responses to a UK Government consultation have highlighted.

It follows a call for evidence in November to inform the next five-year national action plan to tackle the problem.

In all 81% of the 200 respondents said the threat of antimicrobial resistance has increased since the last plan was published in 2019.

The problem is being driven by inappropriate antibiotic use, poor prescribing practices and general overuse in both humans and animals, respondents said.

But another theme that emerged in the responses was a lack of diagnostics to ensure infections can be treated quickly and appropriately as well as a lack of innovation in developing new antimicrobials.

More than one in four answers to the consultation, which was done between November and January, identified diagnostics as an area where there needs to be greater focus in the UK.

Responses included a range of rationales and recommendations from optimising ‘the pathway working in which infections are diagnosed’ to ‘faster turnaround time for diagnostics’ and ‘funding for bacterial vs viral infection diagnostics’.

Public awareness is also an area where more work needs to be done, 25% of respondent said.

Funding was identified by many as one of the barriers to progress against antimicrobial resistance including the need to address the ‘market failure in antimicrobial development’.

Yet there are things the UK can learn from other countries with case studies including the Netherlands’ ‘One Health initiative’, Estonia’s ‘joined-up patient and healthcare portal’ and Sweden’s ‘collaborative national approach’.

And we should draw on our experience with Covid-19 to build the ‘toolbox’ for tackling antimicrobial resistance which will include work on diagnostics, surveillance, therapeutics and vaccines, the summary of consultation feedback said.

The responses will be used in the development of the next five-year strategy, the Government said.

Figures published late last year show healthcare professionals in England have exceeded Government targets to reduce antibiotic prescribing years ahead of schedule, figures suggest. 

A report from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), published last week, found total antibiotic use in England has fallen by 15.1% between 2017 and 2021. 

The Government’s National Action Plan goal was to reduce prescribing by 15% by 2024 from a 2014 baseline.

This article was originally published by our sister publication Pulse.

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