Families not being told that loved ones were killed by deadly winter superbug

Thousands of bereaved families are not being told that their loved one died after contracting a superbug, one of Britain’s leading health chiefs has warned.

Dame Sally Davies, the Government’s Special Envoy on Antimicrobial Resistance, says doctors are not writing it on death certificates for fear of being blamed.

The former Chief Medical Officer is leading urgent calls for the NHS to start recording how many patients who contract such infections die.

It comes after data revealed that the most deadly infections by drug resistant-superbugs have surged by almost a third in five years.

There are 165 new antibiotic-resistant infections detected every day.


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Dame Sally said: “People don’t even know that their relatives are ill with antibiotic resistant infections or dying with them.

“That’s a pretty sorry state of affairs.

“We don’t put it on death certificates. Would I want to say to a relative your patient died because we didn’t do a good enough job because we let him or her catch a drug resistant infection?

“I suspect there’s something behavioural in there.”

Experts at an event about the crisis at the Frontline Club in central London warned rising infections are making conditions such as urinary tract infections potentially fatal for those already frail and unwell.

They said the rise is already threatening modern medicine by making routine procedures such as hip operations and caesareans more dangerous.

Public Health England data on the most severe resistant infections which have already reached the bloodstream increased by 32% according to a five year review.

Infections resistant to the main antibiotics which have reached the bloodstream increased from 13,000 in 2014 up to 17,100 in 2018.

When all resistant infections were estimated, including those that did not reach the bloodstream, there were 61,000 cases in England in 2018. That is 165 new antibiotic resistant infections every day.

A paper published in Lancet last year estimated that in 2015 there were 2,172 deaths attributable to antibiotic-resistant infections.


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Dame Sally, at the event hosted by the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, added: “We really need to start cataloguing this.

“If the coding of the death certificate is done by non clinical staff then they don’t get the importance of it.

“It’s quite complex to do and people need training so that doesn’t happen. We haven’t invested in the effort.”

Routine treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer patients are one of the many which could become ineffective of patients cannot be given effective antibiotics.

Campaigning journalist Madlen Davies, of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, told how junior doctors often leave resistant infections of the birth certificate when it could be included as a secondary cause of death.

She said: “They put the primary cause. Maybe in the microbiology reports they will say there’s a resistant infection, but they don’t want to communicate that because it implies that they had a role in that death.”

Dr Susan Hopkins, Deputy Director, National Infections Service, Public Health England, said: "Current estimates suggest that antibiotic resistant infections kill over 2000 people a year.

"Public Health England support improved documentation of deaths from drug resistant infections so we can better capture the burden on our society.”

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