Hand hygiene – the first step in tackling antimicrobial resistance

The rise of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is one of the biggest threats to global health in today’s world, with the current estimated cost of AMR to the NHS in excess of £180 million per annum.[1]

AMR is the ability of a microorganism (like bacteria and viruses) to stop an antimicrobial (such as antibiotics) from working against it. As a result, standard treatments become ineffective, infections persist and may spread to others.[2]

Healthcare-associated infections (HCAIs) are a typical example of germs becoming resistant to the medicines that treat them. Hundreds of thousands of patients die or are considerably affected each year by HCAIs meaning prevention of them is pivotal to slowing down the rate of AMR.

50% to 70% of HCAIs are transmitted by hands[3] and the growth in AMR could increase the severity of HCAIs further, as infections that we typically cure with antibiotics will become untreatable.

Therefore, hand hygiene and infection prevention should be the first line of defence against AMR in hospitals, but it is often overlooked. Although the 2013-2018 AMR Strategy highlighted the role of infection control in preventing AMR, the new Strategy can go further in highlighting the fundamental role that prevention plays in contributing to resistance.

In June 2018, DebMed® submitted evidence to Parliament outlining that the new strategy must re-emphasise hand hygiene as central to reducing bacterial resistance and outline clear steps to improve hand hygiene compliance in hospitals.

A failure to address the challenge of antimicrobial resistance could result in an estimated 10 million deaths every year globally by 2050 and a cost of £66 trillion in lost productivity to the global economy.[4]

Recognition alone is not sufficient. Stricter guidance must be introduced to ensure hand hygiene compliance is the first line of defence in preventing infection.