A report by Public Health England shows blood stream infections caused by bugs resistant to one or more key antibiotics have risen by 35% in four years from 12,250 in 2013 to 16,504 in 2017.
It said more than three million common procedures such as cesarean sections and hip replacements, as well as cancer treatments, which require antibiotics to prevent infections could become deadly without working drugs.
“Antibiotics are essential to treat serious bacterial infections, but they are frequently being used to treat illnesses such as coughs, earache and sore throats that can get better by themselves,” PHE said.
“Taking antibiotics encourages harmful bacteria that live inside you to become resistant. That means that antibiotics may not work when you really need them.”
PHE’s latest Keep Antibiotics Working campaign reminds people that if they are feeling unwell “antibiotics aren’t always needed”.
Professor Paul Cosford, PHE’s 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 antibiotic resistance by listening to your GP, pharmacist or nurse’s advice and only taking antibiotics when necessary.”
England’s chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies added that “without swift action to reduce infections, we are at risk of putting medicine back in the dark ages – to an age where common procedures we take for granted could become too dangerous to perform and treatable conditions become life threatening”.
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs, said it was vital “antibiotics are not seen as a “catch all” for every illness or a “just in case” back-up option.
“Patients need to understand that if their doctor doesn’t prescribe antibiotics it’s because they genuinely believe they are not the most appropriate course of treatment,” she said.