O’Neill Review

Nick’s speech in the Westminster Hall debate


Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)

I beg to move,

That this House has considered the O’Neill review into antibiotic resistance.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. In advance of this debate, I penned an article for PoliticsHome titled, “Antibiotic resistance—the new Black Death?” As I was writing that headline, I could sense outraged people saying, “A typical politician grabbing a sensational headline to terrify the public once again,” but it reflects the devastating conclusions of the review on antimicrobial resistance, which involved some of the world’s leading scientists, academics and economists, including its chair, Lord O’Neill, the world-leading economist and former Treasury Minister.

The O’Neill review’s report states that bacteria are gradually becoming more resistant to antibiotics, and its most grim prediction is that 10 million lives will be lost globally every year by 2050. That is more than are lost to cancer and similar to the number of deaths caused in the 14th century by the black death, which killed some 75 million people between 1346 and 1353.


John Howell (Henley) (Con)

My hon. Friend cites 10 million deaths, but the effect will not be the same everywhere. Was he as shocked as I was to discover that the figure for Africa is more than 4 million? Does he think that more research should be done to ensure that the right resources are in the right places?

Kevin Hollinrake

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. The key element of the fight against antimicrobial resistance is its global nature. We absolutely must not isolate ourselves from the rest of the world—we must collaborate—but we must take national action, too, and I will come on to that shortly.

That figure is of course a prediction—it could be lower, but it could also be higher. Predictions have been made about other contagions, such Ebola, Zika, HIV and Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, and our scientists, academics and clinicians thankfully have managed to mitigate the worst effects and worst predictions for those diseases. But there are three reasons for us to be more alarmed this time: first, antimicrobial resistance is already happening; secondly, the problem is spreading rapidly and by all available means; and thirdly, research is not being carried out on anything like the scale required.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con)

A quarter of all the deaths that are predicted to happen as a result of drug resistance will be caused by tuberculosis,  disease that already kills 1.8 million people a year. Does my hon. Friend agree that research and development is essential if we are to develop a vaccine to prevent tuberculosis? No epidemic has ever been fully beaten without a vaccine.

Kevin Hollinrake

I absolutely agree. The difficulty is that due to the reward mechanisms in the system, such research and development is not happening. I will turn to that shortly.

This is not an apocalyptic prophecy. Antimicrobial resistance causes some 700,000 deaths globally and an estimated 12,000 deaths in the UK every year—similar to the number of people who lose their lives from breast cancer. Quite simply, if the bacteria that cause infections become resistant to antibiotics, people die. This issue is listed in the national risk register of civil emergencies, a five-year Government register, which states that an

“increasingly serious issue is the development and spread of”

antimicrobial resistance and points out that much of modern medicine will become unsafe. Minor surgery such as organ transplants, bowel surgery, cancer treatments and caesarean sections will become high risk—there will be more illness and more deaths.

Dame Sally Davies, our chief medical officer, pointed out that antibiotics have extended life by an average of 20 years—20 years of our lives may therefore be lost—and 40% of our population could die prematurely if this situation is not resolved. Operations would become unsafe due to the risk of infection during surgery or chemotherapy. Influenza pandemics would become much more serious. The national risk register states:

“The numbers of infections complicated by AMR are expected to increase markedly over the next 20 years. If a widespread outbreak were to occur, we could expect around 200,000 people to be affected by a bacterial blood infection that could not be treated effectively with existing drugs”.

Mr Virendra Sharma (Ealing, Southall) (Lab)

It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Streeter, and I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on securing this important debate.

The O’Neill review is a fundamentally important look at the future of medical treatment not just in this country, but globally. TB is one of the most dangerous iseases worldwide and the most lethal infectious disease in history. As has been mentioned, 5,000 people die from it every day around the world and, as the review indicates, more than 10 million people will die from it annually by 2050 if we are not careful and do not contribute to the development of future research and vaccinations.

I am proud of the work of the all-party group on global tuberculosis and that of my co-chair of the group, the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Nick Herbert)—I think he has left the Chamber. We have had fantastic support from the Global TB Caucus and RESULTS UK. Both groups worked tirelessly to ensure the proper replenishment of the global fund last year. Eighty per cent. of the funding for the global fight against TB comes from the fund and Britain is the second largest donor. Still, at current rates, eradication will only be possible by 2167, which is not good enough—the speed we are going means that it will take 150 years to eradicate the disease. We have committed to eradication by 2030 but we are not doing enough to achieve it. Hopefully, the O’Neill review will be enough to drive forward the agenda that we need.

We have to work towards not just treatment, but vaccination. The standard treatment currently takes six months and 4,000 pills; it is no wonder that fewer than half of those who start the treatment complete the course. The difficulty of treatment drives AMR and the widespread nature of the epidemic. Hopefully, Lord O’Neill’s review will go some way towards raising awareness of how acute the issue of AMR is for some of the world’s poorest, even in this country. This and previous Governments have led the world on action on resistance. Let them again take up the mantle and drive forward the fight against AMR and help to secure a real vaccination against TB.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health (Nicola Blackwood)

I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) on securing this very well attended debate and on his ongoing commitment to highlighting this issue. I pay tribute to the all-party group on antibiotics, my hon. Friend the Member for York Outer (Julian Sturdy) and the right hon. Member for Rother Valley (Sir Kevin Barron) for their leadership. I also commend my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton (Mr Osborne), who is no longer in his place. He really set the issue squarely on the international agenda during his time as Chancellor.

As many hon. Members have described well today, antimicrobial resistance has the potential to lead to 10 million deaths by 2050—more than are caused by cancer—and a loss to global productivity of £100 trillion. As my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton said, the figures are on a scale that is hard to comprehend, but the good news is that the ramifications of AMR are now widely acknowledged, and we can be proud that the UK has played no small part in that. Our chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, has led a global campaign to get AMR and the lack of new drugs in the development pipeline high on the global political agenda.

We have used the UK’s antimicrobial resistance strategy and our response to the O’Neill review, which we published last September, to drive change at home and abroad. This has led to the landmark UN declaration on AMR in September, which was adopted by 193 countries. The declaration recognises that AMR is an issue that relates not just to human health, but—as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet (Mrs Villiers) and the hon. Member for Bristol East (Kerry McCarthy) rightly said—to animal health, agriculture and the environment, with a significant social and economic impact. It puts AMR squarely not just on the global development agenda, but on the global security agenda.

As numerous hon. Members have mentioned, a key Government commitment in response to the review was to work with international partners to develop a global system that rewards companies for bringing new, successful products to market and makes them available to all who need them. There are a number of options for addressing the market failure, but the O’Neill review suggests using system of market entry rewards to incentivise companies to bring new products to market. A number of international organisations, including the Boston Consulting Group, commissioned by the German Government, have looked at the issue more recently and come to similar conclusions, which is helpful in building an international consensus.

The UK supports that approach, particularly options that involve private sector contributions, but although a global solution is needed, different countries have different perspectives. In some countries, lack of access to effective antimicrobials is as great a risk as resistant bugs. The WHO estimates that 30% of people in developing countries do not have access to essential medicines, rising to 50% in sub-Saharan Africa. The UK is working to reach an agreement at the G20 to acknowledge market failure. The G20 has commissioned the OECD to consider potential solutions, and it will consider a range of options. The UK will support alternative systems that can effectively tackle market failure in a cost-effective and sustainable manner that ensures a long-term, sustainable supply of new antibiotics but also provides access to all.

While Lord O’Neill made it clear that interventions to stimulate the antimicrobials market should be administered at global level, he was also clear that at national level we must have better purchasing arrangements that conserve antimicrobials and do not incentivise unnecessary use. That is why the Department of Health is working with industry, through a joint working group with the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry and the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, to consider reimbursement approaches that support these aims and how reimbursement models that de-link revenue from volume can be operationalised. It is essential that such a scheme is workable, so I will report back to Members when I am able to do so.

Colleagues are right that we will not make progress if we do not improve our stewardship and diagnostics, and cut avoidable infections and inappropriate prescribing. One of our ambitions in that regard is to halve the number of healthcare-associated Gram-negative blood stream infections by 2020. Delivery of that ambition is being led by NHS Improvement. Our initial focus is a 10% reduction in E. coli infections by 2017-2018, because there are established interventions to prevent such infections, and we are making some progress in this area.

A second ambition is to halve inappropriate prescribing by 2020. This work is now being led by the chief pharmaceutical officer at NHS England, with support from Public Health England, but the challenge is to identify the proportion of current prescribing that is inappropriate, so that we can safely reduce our use. Our experts are working to set a baseline, so that we can clarify our ask to prescribers. This will build on work that is already under way to reduce unnecessary prescribing.

I can report that there has been some progress in this area. In November 2016, data showed that total consumption of antibiotics by humans in England fell by 4.3% between 2014 and 2015, which is the greatest change that we have seen since the early 2000s. We are making progress, but our experts believe we can go further so we have put incentives in place through the NHS quality premium and commissioning for quality improvement schemes—which is quite a mouthful—to encourage further reduction, and we will maintain that system for a further two years, so that we can embed those changes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton also said that over-the-counter antimicrobials were a key area. It is illegal for websites based in the UK to sell antibiotics online without a prescription. Some websites offer online consultations with doctors, but they must abide by the General Medical Council guidance on remote prescribing, and it is extremely important that people exercise caution in how they use online care providers, especially when it comes to seeking medicines or treatments that may not be appropriate for them.

Regulatory agencies, such as the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency and the Care Quality Commission, are monitoring the safety and efficacy of prescription medicines and those selling them. Following an internal review of all 43 online services that are registered, the CQC has brought forward a programme of inspections, prioritising those services that it considers might pose a risk to patients. It will obviously report soon on that work.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet and the hon. Member for Bristol East were absolutely right that the Department of Health needs to work closely with the Veterinary Medicines Directorate to reduce the use of antimicrobials in livestock and in fish farmed for food. Between 2014 and 2015, we saw a drop of 10% in sales of antibiotic for food-producing animals, but we know that we need to go further. So we are now in the process of setting sector-specific targets, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chipping Barnet said, to ensure that we achieve our ambition of 50 milligrams per kilogram weight of animal by 2018.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash (Maggie Throup) was also right to highlight the need for better diagnostics if we are to achieve our stewardship ambitions. O’Neill was clear that that was necessary for better clinical decision making in both animal and human health. There is great potential to make better use of the diagnostic tests that are already available in a range of settings, including for self-care and monitoring in pharmacies and other high-street services. So NHS England has a programme in place not only to improve the use of the diagnostic tests that we already have but to identify the priority needs for new tests, so that we can work with researchers and industry to support the development and uptake of those tests. NHS England is also working with NICE to identify how its programmes could support more rapid uptake of effective diagnostic tests. If my hon. Friend would like us to, we will write to her with the details of that work.

In the end, this challenge is a global one that requires global leadership, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Tatton has said. The UN declaration was the start of a longer process to make sure that all countries develop and implement a national action plan, and it is essential that the follow-up process, which was agreed in the declaration, is put in place as soon as possible, to ensure that no time is lost in getting to where we want to be before we go back to the UN General Assembly in 2018. Within that timeframe, we will continue to support other countries to tackle antimicrobial resistance, including providing help to build capability and capacity to develop good surveillance systems in low and middle-income countries, through our £265 million Fleming fund and our £1 billion Ross fund, exactly as the hon. Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) has said.

Lord O’Neill also recommended the establishment of a global innovation fund of $2 billion by 2020. The UK co-hosted a side event at the UN in September 2016 that brought together a package of pledges from Governments around the world to tackle AMR, totalling more than £675 million, which is a really considerable start in achieving that recommendation.

All of this work means that we now have unprecedented levels of global collaboration in research in the UK, co-ordinated by the AMR Funders Forum and supported by the Medical Research Council. We are now working hard to promote research and innovation in AMR globally, which includes making a further £50 million commitment towards setting up a global AMR innovation fund, to increase global investment in AMR and support the development of new drugs and diagnostics.

In closing, I thank all Members—

David Tredinnick

On that note, will the Minister give way?

Nicola Blackwood

I will close now but follow up later.

I thank all Members who have attended today. The high turnout and the quality of debate speaks to the fact that AMR is more than a domestic health challenge and more than a global development challenge. It is truly a global security challenge, of a scale that requires long-term political leadership to drive through the international change, the up-front investment to break the cycle of market failure in drugs development and the urgent action needed to improve diagnostics and cut inappropriate prescribing, and to ensure that patients complete their courses of medicines in an appropriate way.

We can be proud of the genuinely leading role that the UK has already taken, both domestically and on the international stage, but my commitment to all Members here today is that we shall not miss a step in driving forward on research and development, on stewardship and on international co-operation. As a science superpower with an integrated healthcare system, we are uniquely well placed to meet this challenge and we are determined to do so.

To read the full debate on Hansard, see here

Nick Herbert