NI’s Chief Medical Officer warns of the dangers of antibiotic resistance

Date published: 20 October 2017

NI’s Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride has urged action to be taken now to prevent millions of people worldwide dying unnecessarily from infections each year due to the growing resistance to antibiotics.

Dr McBride gave this stark warning as he launched his 10th Annual Report saying the threat of antibiotic resistance cannot be overstated: “This is the greatest danger to human health and to medicines worldwide. Currently 700,000 people die worldwide each year from drug resistant infections and this figure is forecasted to reach 10 million deaths by 2050, if the problem is ignored.  This statistic should be enough to make us all stop and think about the impact of the continued over-use and misuse of antibiotics.

“If we don’t act now, it could mean that even the simplest infections cannot be treated and the most straightforward operations cannot be performed. This is an issue that affects every single one of us and could have devastating consequences. It is vital that we tackle this problem urgently so we can safeguard the health of ourselves, our children and future generations.”

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria become resistant to the antibiotics designed to treat infections as we have over-used and misused the antibiotics available to us. This is dangerous because we need antibiotics when carrying out even routine operations such as hip replacements. We also run the risk of infectious diseases like pneumonia becoming untreatable.

Dr McBride continued: “We know that Northern Ireland’s antibiotic usage is higher on average than the rest of the UK and 30 per cent higher than England, with 1.9 million individual antibiotic prescriptions issued annually.  Northern Ireland’s contribution to this global crisis is clearly significant and we must drive this down.

“The good news is that we can all do something to help prevent the growth of antibiotic resistance. We are not powerless to stop this from happening – with a few simple steps, we can tackle this problem head on to give future generations the benefits that antibiotics have provided to us. GPs and dentists, and indeed patients too, have a role to play in reducing amount of antibiotics prescribed.”

Here are some of the easy ways to help:

  • The single most important thing each of us can do is to practice good hand hygiene to help prevent the spread of infection in the first place – wash your hands after using the bathroom, before preparing or eating food, after coughing or sneezing or if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • Secondly, speak to your GP or pharmacist before you request an antibiotic. Often our GPs face pressure to prescribe antibiotics for a cold or flu – but they don’t work on viruses.
  • Finally, if you are prescribed antibiotics, remember that your doctor is the best person to provide advice on the dose and length of the treatment so you should always finish the antibiotics given to you, even if you start to feel better.

The CMO said: “Across government, work has been ongoing for a number of years and we are taking steps to address this issue. I am working with the CMOs in England, Scotland and Wales to develop a new UK strategy to reduce resistance to antibiotics. We are working in partnership with other sectors in this work, such as farming and veterinary services, the food sector and businesses, because the issues of antibiotic use and antibiotic resistance are also important for animals and the environment.

As well as lots of information about antibiotic resistance, the Chief Medical Offer’s 10th annual report contains important information about looking after your mental health; how to look after your children’s teeth; how to make sure you’re getting enough Vitamin D, breastfeeding, alcohol limits and misuse of prescription drugs.

Speaking about the future of health care in Northern Ireland, Dr McBride concluded: “We have to accept that, in order to achieve the world-class health and social care service we all deserve, things will need to be done differently in future. Delivering Together places a greater emphasis on helping people to stay well for longer. Where care or support is needed it will be, wherever possible, provided in the community and primary care settings. Some local services will need to be replaced by regional models or specialist centres equipped to deliver the best possible healthcare for the whole population, providing high quality services in a safe and timely way. Delivering Together puts people at the forefront of how we will arrange health and social care services in the future.”

A copy of the annual report can be accessed on the Department’s website.


Notes to editors: 

1. For media enquiries please contact the Department of Health Press Office on 028 9052 0575 or email For out of hours please contact the Duty Press Office via pager number 07623 974 383 and your call will be returned. Follow us on twitter @healthdpt

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