New parliamentary inquiry calls for ‘urgent wakeup’ on spiralling antibiotic resistant infections

20 February 2023
Mould the Musical outside Parliament performing
  • Lack of clean water and sanitation in healthcare centres globally driving infections
  • Healthcare acquired infections already cost the NHS at least £2.1 billion a year - a cost that will go up if these infections become increasingly resistant to antibiotics.
  • Parliamentary report launched today in Parliament, with performances from singing healthcare professionals

Download photos A new parliamentary report calling for urgent Government action on a ‘silent pandemic’ was released today, highlighting the significant risk of antibiotic resistance to UK health.

Most of the multi-drug resistance infections treated in the UK have their origins in other countries. The report highlights the worrying lack of clean water and decent sanitation is around half of the world’s healthcare centres – meaning that infections spread much more easily. Investing in healthcare facilities decreases the demand for antibiotics, breaks the chain of infection and removes the opportunity for resistant infections to become dominant.

Already a major factor in nearly 5 million deaths a year globally – more lives claimed than by HIV, malaria or breast cancer – drug resistant infections are predicted to become the leading cause of death in the UK by 2050. Infections can spread rapidly in hospitals and clinics which are unclean. Many health workers who cannot rely on the availability of soap and clean water are then over-prescribing antibiotics as a preventative measure, contributing to the rising threat of resistance. Yet, this is preventable.

To mark the launch of the report healthcare professionals from across the country staged performances within the parliamentary estate, calling on the government to take action against the risk of antibiotic resistance.

The singing doctors and nurses form the chorus of Edinburgh Fringe sell-out musical The Mould That Changed the World, will perform alongside a cast of West End actors. The musical uses the arts to champion Alexander Fleming’s life and educate on the importance of preserving antibiotics

In the report inquiry chairs, Julian Sturdy MP and Fleur Anderson MP stated that “The world cannot afford to ignore the warnings posed by the current antibiotic resistance crisis - the consequences are likely to be even worse for global health and prosperity than we have seen in the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The report – Prevention first. Why clean water and hygiene are the best medicine against the spread of drug resistant infection has called on urgent funding for clean water healthcare facilities globally to curb the rising infections leading to resistance. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), 70% of healthcare-acquired infections could be prevented through good hand hygiene and access to clean water.

Addressing this is extremely cost effective. Ensuring every healthcare facility in the world’s 46 least developed countries have access to clean water and sanitation would cost an estimated US$9.6 billion – an average of just $0.65 per person per year. G7 countries account for 78% of the total funding needed. We would meet our fair share of the cost if the UK were to ringfence just 0.3% of its annual overseas aid budget for water, sanitation and hygiene.

In a WaterAid poll conducted last year 53% of the British public list water, sanitation and hygiene as one of their top three most important ways of spending UK official development assistance.

The report has also highlighted the risk to the UK by not addressing antibiotic resistance on a global stage, stating;

“Though the burden of deaths from antibiotic resistance is highest in sub-Saharan Africa, addressing this issue is not purely a matter of altruism, it is very much in the UK’s interest. As the recent pandemic has shown, infectious diseases do not respect borders: “a threat anywhere poses a threat everywhere” as Dame Sally Davies, the UK’s AMR Envoy, put it.”

The report was led by The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Antibiotics and APPG on Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) and bought together healthcare experts from across the world to highlight the issue and solutions, including experts from WHO, UNICEF, The University of Oxford, WaterAid and healthcare workers on the frontline of this crisis.

Tim Wainwright, WaterAid’s Chief Executive, said:

“If we have learnt anything from the Covid-19 pandemic it is the importance of prevention and preparedness. We can’t win the battle against antibiotic resistance without water, sanitation and hygiene. Battling antibiotic resistance will be one of the biggest and most important fights of this generation.

By investing in water, sanitation and hygiene in all healthcare facilities we can help tackle the spread of antibiotic resistance and save millions of lives at home and abroad. The UK is a world leader when it comes to antibiotic resistance and is uniquely placed to lead global efforts to combat this crisis.”

Dr Nicholas Brown, British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy’s Director of Public and Professional Engagement, and Head of Secretariat for the APPG on Antibiotics, said:

“Often called the silent pandemic, we can no longer ignore the global crisis of antibiotic resistance. We are already seeing the toll it is taking on the NHS, and our health systems, let alone health systems globally. Infections don’t respect borders. Without effective global action, the UK’s world leading efforts to tackle antibiotic resistance here will be of little use as most multi-drug resistant infections treated in the UK originated elsewhere in the world.”

“This report highlights an inexpensive and essential route into addressing the issue of antibiotic resistance. By ensuring all healthcare centres have access to clean water and sanitation we can reduce the risk of infection and the use of antibiotics.”


Download photos For more information, please contact:

Jemima Young, Senior Media Officer [email protected] or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552

Notes to Editors:


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 28 million people with clean water and nearly 29 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit our website, follow us on Twitter @WaterAidPress, @WaterAidUK, @WaterAid, or find us on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram.

  • 771 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.
  • Almost 1.7 billion people in the world – more than one in five – do not have a decent toilet of their own.
  • Over 300,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's more than 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.
  • Investing in safely managed water, sanitation and hygiene services provides up to 21 times more value than it costs. 
  • [1] WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
  • [2] WHO/UNICEF (2021) Progress on household drinking water, sanitation and hygiene 2000-2020. Joint Monitoring Programme. Geneva: World Health Organisation.
  • [3] WaterAid calculations based on: Prüss-Ustün A, et al. (2019). Burden of Disease from Inadequate Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for Selected Adverse Health Outcomes: An Updated Analysis with a Focus on Low- and Middle-Income Countries. International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health. vol 222, no 5, pp 765-777. AND The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2020) Global Burden of Disease Study 2019. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.
  • [4] WaterAid. (2021) Mission-critical: Invest in water, sanitation and hygiene for a healthy and green economic recovery.