Antibiotic resistance is killing thousands in Britain today. My dad was one of them

Andrea Jenkyns
The 'superbug' MRSA is resistant to many antibiotics - AP

There are moments in life that can shake you to the core, when you know that life will never be the same again, but the one consolation is that you learn and form a new perspective.  

My moment was the 11th November 2011. The day my wonderful dad died.  Dad had always been my hero, he was a positive force of energy in my life, and at that moment, it was gone.

My dad was just aged 73, not a young man, but also not old by many of today’s standards. He was fit and active, he loved boxing, and was full of life. He had done many jobs from being a lorry driver who started his own transport firm to even a bit of an amateur inventor, but what he really lived for was his family.

My dad was only one of 50,000 lives that antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim every year.

Unfortunately Dad didn’t die of old age at home with his wife of over 49 years, Valerie. He died after being infected by the “superbug” MRSA.  MRSA is a type of bacteria that's resistant to many widely used antibiotics, this means infections with MRSA can be harder to treat than other bacterial infections with antibiotics.

Dad had earlier been diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused by exposure to asbestos, and the consultant advised that as we had caught it early he could expect to live another 10 years after a lung operation. He was admitted to hospital for a routine procedure in July 2011 to drain the fluid and a group of trainee doctors practiced on him for two and a half hours trying to insert the drain, this was how he caught MRSA.

Later the infection prevented medics from carrying out the necessary surgery and dad was transferred to St James’ Hospital in Leeds and died in November 2011.

About | Antibiotics

The quality of care dad received was poor. We later found out that his room was located next door to where the hospital housed the patients with MRSA, his door was always open, the room where they did the procedure was not sterile, and the cleaners kept their mop buckets and cleaning products in there.

I recall there was one particular nurse who put antibiotic cream in dad’s nose. She walked in, didn't wash her hands, put the cream up his nose and walked out again without washing her hands. I spoke with the head nurse about my concerns, but she just looked at me blankly and walked away. This was a brand new hospital, but what I kept noticing was that people did not wash their hands before and after their consultations with patients.

I remember we were watching television from his hospital bed one day and Dad had tears in his eyes, he said: "when I get better Andrea, you and I are going to work to highlight these hospital-acquired infections and create a support network, because there is not much support out there".  Two days later he died.

One of the biggest lessons my dad taught me in life, and why I think I am a Conservative today, is that there is no point simply complaining.  "Get out there and improve your lot", he used to say. Within two months of his death, my mum and I got involved in the charity MRSA Action and had begun campaigning for improved hygiene standards to prevent further tragedies.

At the time I was a county councillor but when dad died it inspired me to aim higher. I got selected for the secure Labour seat of Morley and Outwood which had never been Conservative. I sold my house to finance my campaign, and in May 2015, I was overwhelmed to defeat the sitting Labour MP, Ed Balls, with a slim majority of 422.

Since being elected I have tried to use my platform to highlight the issue of antimicrobial resistance (AMR). AMR is the ability of a microorganism, such as bacteria, viruses, and some parasites, to stop an antibiotic from working against it.

In numbers | Antibiotic resistance

I’ve sat on the Health Select Committee, I’ve established the All-Party Group on Patient Safety and I’ve run a hand washing campaign “Handz” in parliament in a bid to fight the spread of resistant infections.

While I have played a small part, I have been hugely impressed with the work that the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, Jeremy Hunt MP, has done on this issue in public and behind the scenes. Professor Dame Sally Davies, the Chief Medical Officer for England, is also an inspiration, showing a rare energy and passion into fighting and highlighting AMR.

The Government has acknowledged the need for action and in September 2016 published its response to the Independent Review on Antimicrobial resistance. It set out an ambitious target of halving the inappropriate prescription of antibiotics in humans by 2021. Family doctors have already made good progress with over 2.6 million fewer prescriptions in 2015-16. Furthermore, there have been positive reports coming from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs showing sales of antibiotics for use in food producing animals has dropped by 27%.

This is all good news, but a lot more needs to be done globally. Resistance has increasingly become a problem in recent years because the pace at which we are discovering new antibiotics has slowed drastically, while antibiotic use around the world is rising.

Unfortunately, there remain significant challenges associated with developing new antibiotics to overcome AMR. Traditional drug development methods take time and are insufficiently profitable to entice pharmaceutical companies to develop new antibiotics — which is why no pharmaceutical company has developed and marketed a new antibiotic in the last 30 years.

My dad, Clifford, never got to see me marry my husband or see the birth of his first grandson who is named after him. AMR will be one of the biggest problems facing our society in the next 50 years, but the damaging effects of antimicrobial resistance are already manifesting themselves across the world today.

My dad was only one of 50,000 lives - across Europe and the US alone – that antimicrobial-resistant infections currently claim every year. The world needs to wake up to this problem now.

Q&A | Antimicrobial resistance

The author, Andrea Jenkyns, is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Morley and Outwood

Supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Find out more