It is the health system’s nightmare, bubbling just below the surface of our hospitals. Infections are becoming more and more resistant to antibiotics, while secondary infection rates during hospital stays continue to rise.
However, with antibiotics long off-patent, there is little reason for pharmaceutical companies to do anything about it.
Research led by Professor Ramon Shaban from the Griffith Health Institute (GHI) was commissioned to create a detailed framework for Australia's future national system for the surveillance and reporting of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and antibiotic usage.
“The main concern is that we’re rapidly running out of antibiotics to use to treat infections individuals acquire following increasingly routine surgical procedures, such as hip/joint replacements,” he said.
$11.9M has been allocated over three years to establish the national system. It is believed antibiotic resistance and hospital-acquired infections cost the health system tens of millions a year.
“The problem has two main facets, the growth and adaptation of microbes becoming resistant to antibiotics and the lack of new or pipeline antibiotics.
“Resistance to many last-line antibiotics is now common in Australian hospitals.
“Modern medicine and healthcare has mastered techniques to treat complex conditions to now only be thwarted by infections that we’re unable to treat.
“Individuals who acquire a multi-drug resistant, healthcare-associated infection face a bleak future; we no longer have antibiotics to treat them.
“The first step, which we have begun, is to establish systems of data gathering and reporting on patterns of AMR and antibiotic use, coordinated through a single national coordinating centre.
“Make no mistake, this is the front line in health care,” said Professor Shaban.
In fact antibiotic resistance has been highlighted as an important problem in Australia since 1997. Since then governments have struggled to come up with an appropriate structure and model to combat it, largely owning to our federated system.
Meanwhile Griffith University has already begun incorporating AMR research into its postgraduate course for health professionals in the Master of Health Practice (Prevention and Control).
“The system we’ve developed brings research back to clinical practice. Contemporary physicians, nurses and scientists cannot just be rigorous in their own systems, they need to be part of researching, recording, coordinating and even analysing information,” said Professor Shaban, who is also Chair of Infection Control and Infectious Diseases and Deputy Head of Griffith’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.
“Whether in a clinical or community context, infection prevention and control is an issue which will get bigger as our organisms and infections evolve and climate changes. Antibiotic resistance is something everyone will have to contend with right around the world.”
The research was commissioned by the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care (ACSQHC) and the Antimicrobial Resistance Standing Committee (AMRSC).