Dame Sally Davies
Dame Sally Davies has warned that we may not live to see global warming because of antibiotic resistance (Wiki Commons)

Dame Sally Davies has described the rising risk of antibiotic resistance as a bigger threat than global warming and has warned that the population could be facing an "apocalyptic scenario".

The chief medical officer for the Department of Health was speaking to MPs at a science and technology committee meeting.

She told them: "It is clear that we might never see global warming. The apocalyptic scenario is that, if I need a new hip in 20 years, I'll die from a routine infection because we've run out of antibiotics."

Davies said that 80 percent of gonorrhoea cases were now resistant to antibiotics and the number of cases among young and middle-aged people was on the rise.

She also warned that tuberculosis was poised to become a major threat to health. There are about 440,000 new cases of drug-resistant TB every year, resulting in 150,000 deaths worldwide.

"It is very serious because we are not using our antibiotics effectively," she said.

"There is a broken market model for making new antibiotics. It's an empty pipeline. As [infections] become resistant, there will not be any new antibiotics to come.

"We need to get our act together in this country."

Cupboard nearly bare

Davies said antibiotic resistance has been put on the Department of Heath and Defra's risk register and she would call for it to be put on the government's wider risk register.

"I would like to live to see if climate change is as serious as we fear," she said.

Davies met the assistant general director of the World Health Organisation and leaders from other countries to discuss the antibiotics crisis.

Resistance occurs through inappropriate or irrational use of medicines, such as when patients fail to take a full course of antibiotics.

Margaret Chan, director-general of WHO, said: "If trends continue unabated, the future is easy to predict. Some experts say we are moving back to the pre-antibiotic era. No. This will be a post-antibiotic era.

"In terms of new replacement antibiotics, the pipeline is virtually dry, especially for gram-negative bacteria. The cupboard is nearly bare.

"A post-antibiotic era means, in effect, an end to modern medicine as we know it. Things as common as strep throat or a child's scratched knee could once again kill."