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Tackling the threat of antimicrobial resistance: from policy to sustainable action

Today, Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B has published a paper I co-wrote with the Chief Medical Officer and some public health colleagues on antimicrobial resistance policy. The abstract says:

Antibiotics underpin all of modern medicine, from routine major surgery through to caesarean sections and modern cancer therapies. These drugs have revolutionized how we practice medicine, but we are in a constant evolutionary battle to evade microbial resistance and this has become a major global public health problem. We have overused and misused these essential medicines both in the human and animal health sectors and this threatens the effectiveness of antimicrobials for future generations. We can only address the threat of anti-microbial resistance (AMR) through international collaboration across human and animal health sectors integrating social, economic and behavioural factors.Our global organizations are rising to the challenge with the recent World Health Assembly resolution on AMR and development of the Global Action plan but we must act now to avoid a return to a pre-antibiotic era.

The paragraph which has received most attention – perhaps surprisingly in a paper which predicts that more people will be dying of AMR than cancer and diabetes combined within decades – is one on food prices:

Public support for action to tackle AMR is crucial, as many measures to mitigate the effects of resistance will incur substantial financial and societal costs, which will ultimately be borne by the public, both through taxation and,probably, through higher purchase costs of products whose manufacturing methods are altered. For example, a pricing paradox exists in farming whereby antibiotics, an increasingly scarce natural resource, cost less than implementation of more rigorous hygiene practices. Reversal of this paradox may lead to higher food prices. While these costs are undoubtedly lesser than the long-term cost of unmitigated antibiotic resistance, they are also more immediate and, superficially at least, discretionary.

Anyway, it’s all quite interesting stuff (though I guess I’m a bit biased). Read it here.

This 2,299th post was filed under: Health, Writing Elsewhere.

BMA wrong to call for repeal of Health and Social Care Act

The BMA is asking members to sign a petition asking Government to repeal the Health and Social Care Act 2012. The leadership’s rationale is that the Act requires providers to compete, while the BMA believes that “collaboration and not competition is more likely to allow a greater integration of community and hospital services”.

I could not agree more: collaboration is more clearly in the interests of individual patients than competition, and collaboration seems at odds with competition. Yet I don’t think the BMA’s position should be to call solely for repeal of the Act: after all, the Act is not solely about competition. The legislation brought about many changes, some of which are working well.

For example, we are beginning to see the value of a new local authority perspective on influencing the wider determinants of health, as shown by the exemplary nominees for NICE’s local government public health award. This sort of progress can be found in many Local Authorities across England. To campaign for repeal of the Act is to surround this progress with a fog of uncertainty: repeal would reject this progress outright and move staff back into PCTs.

The Act limits the Secretary of State’s powers to intervene in the day-to-day running of the NHS. While the success of this has been questionable at best, we are beginning to see push-back against Government diktat. No one, except perhaps Lansley and Hunt, would argue that the NHS benefits from the Health Secretary holding operational control; yet repeal would reintroduce this.

The Act confers new responsibilities on NICE to support evidence-based social care. The Act provides the first (baby) steps towards regulation of healthcare support workers. The Act gives an unprecedented level of legislative support to research in the NHS. These may be small considerations in comparison to the problems of the Act, but outright repeal would (if I may mix metaphors) cast the baby and the bathwater both into uncertain territory.

How quickly the BMA seems to have forgotten the pain inflicted on our profession through restructure, job uncertainty, and redundancy. Excellent professionals left medicine — and especially public health — to pursue other careers, while others lived for years with the stress of the uncertainty of their positions. For the profession’s trade union to argue for yet another overnight reorganisation “so big, it can be seen from space” seems utterly perverse. Perhaps this is why, despite the BMA’s repeated urging, fewer than 4,000 people have signed the petition. Even if every signatory were a BMA member, this would represent less than 3% of the membership.

Repeal represents only a return to the past. It behoves professionals to put forward an alternative vision. For example, politicians refuse to discuss the threat to universal healthcare of having fewer taxpayers per patient as a result of an ageing population; yet the BMA is uniquely placed to devise a considered, collective, professional vision of the future of the NHS. To campaign only for repeal of what exists, and allow the next government propose and introduce yet another short-term model, seems to me to be a sure route to unhappiness.

The BMA should not call for repeal of the Act: this is opposition without a position. The BMA should identify the most insidious parts of the Act, and work tirelessly to scrap or rework them. But, more importantly, the BMA should thoughtfully advocate for the future health of the nation, not for a return to the systems of the past.



Versions of this post also appear on the BMA website and Medium. It's like it's hunting you down wherever you look, begging to be read.

I took the photo at the top of this post at BMA House in September 2012.

This 2,248th post was filed under: Headliner, Health, News and Comment, Politics, Tweeted, Writing Elsewhere, , , .

I’m on the Pod Delusion this week… go listen!

This week’s Pod Delusion is out now! In it, you can hear me wittering on about Captain Scarlet, and lots of really interesting stuff, too: an interview with the wonderful Gia Milinovich, the latest on the bizarre CBeebies Get Well Soon row, a bit of public health discussion of the census by Sean Davidson, and loads more good stuff besides. So why not make listening every week your new year resolution?

This 1,957th post was filed under: Audio, Diary Style Notes, Writing Elsewhere, .

Another letter to my local rag

I’m afraid my inner pedant got the better of me and couldn’t overlook another correspondent’s loose grip on reality last week, resulting in another letter published in my hometown rag, the Southport Visiter. Sorry for the geekiness: if you find it frustrating when letters myopically concentrate on the specifics of claims while ignoring the bigger issues, it’s probably best if you don’t click through.

This 1,612th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Writing Elsewhere, , .

Pod Delusion Episode 41

I’m on The Pod Delusion again this week, talking about something… esoteric. And a bit political. Why not have a listen?

I may or may not post an edited transcript on here at some point… I promised a while ago to make a point of doing so, but haven’t been great at keeping it up 😉

This 1,422nd post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Writing Elsewhere, .

Pod Delusion Episode 21

There’s a new episode of The Pod Delusion out today – and I feature in it, talking about assessment of junior doctors. It also features Richard Dawkins, which is quite exciting, and lots of other things too. You know you want to listen.

This 1,410th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Writing Elsewhere, .

Pod Delusion Episode 17

I’ve recorded a bit on IT in the NHS for this week’s Pod Delusion. Other topics covered include “The Big Freeze”, Google, and ITV’s regions – how can you resist?

I intend to try and remember to add a note here each time I contribute, given that this site was intended to bring all of my writing from all over the internet into one repository – even if that ideal has never really come to fruition.

Plus, I wanted an excuse to use this ‘Diary’ template which hasn’t seen service in some considerable time, but which I think is rather pretty. So there.

This 1,405th post was filed under: Diary Style Notes, Writing Elsewhere, , , , , .

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