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Cross Government Committee Set up to Tackle Antimicrobial Resistance

The Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney, TD and the Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, TD announced today that a National Interdepartmental Antimicrobial Resistance Consultative Committee has been set up to tackle the growing problem of antibiotic resistant bacteria such as MRSA and also infections such as C. difficile.

Commenting on the establishment of the Committee, the Minister for Agriculture, Food and the Marine, Simon Coveney stated that dealing with the problem of antibiotic resistance requires a coordinated approach “It is important that there is communication and cooperation across the Health and Agriculture Departments in relation to this issue. Antibiotics are a hugely valuable resource to protect both human and animal health and our best chance at protecting them is by working together today to ensure that we have effective antibiotics tomorrow”.

Minister Varadkar also welcomed the establishment of the Committee saying: “The rise in antimicrobial resistance represents a significant challenge for all of us. The health service has already made considerable progress in tackling MRSA and C.diff but we have a long way to go. This new forum will help us to share vital information and to work even more closely in the future.”

The setting up of this Committee coincides with European Antibiotic Awareness Day 2014 being marked this week, aimed at increasing public awareness of need for the prudent use of antibiotics in the treatment of human and animal diseases. 

The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Veterinary Officer welcomed the establishment of the Committee which, they said, is an important step in developing a unified approach to antimicrobial resistance which spans people, animals and the wider environment under the Healthy Ireland framework.

The rise in antimicrobial resistance is one of the greatest potential threats to human and animal health with serious consequences for public health, animal health and welfare, and food production.

Antimicrobial resistance is driven by the misuse and overuse of antibiotics and by poor infection control. Existing antibiotics are becoming less effective, fewer and fewer new antibiotics are being developed, and new multi-resistant bacteria are emerging in both human and veterinary medicine.

Ireland has a relatively high rate of antimicrobial resistance in human health compared to most European countries and antibiotics are used more frequently than the European average.

The Departments of Health and Agriculture have been tackling this issue for some time in their own areas, but from this week will be sharing information much more closely. They will be working with the relevant stakeholders from both sectors in a single consultative forum, chaired jointly by both Departments.


What is AMR?

Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) is resistance of a microorganism to an antimicrobial drug that was originally effective for treatment of infections caused by that microorganism. Resistant microorganisms (including bacteria, fungi, viruses and parasites) are able to withstand attack by antimicrobial drugs, such as antibacterial drugs (e.g., antibiotics), antifungals, antivirals, and antimalarials, so that standard treatments become ineffective and infections persist, increasing the risk of spread to others.

The evolution of resistant strains is a natural phenomenon that occurs when microorganisms replicate themselves erroneously or when resistant traits are exchanged between them. The use and misuse of antimicrobial drugs accelerates the emergence of drug-resistant strains. Poor infection control practices, inadequate sanitary conditions and inappropriate food-handling encourages the further spread of AMR.

What is the effect of AMR?

A recent European Commission report estimated that drug-resistant bacteria are now responsible for about 25,000 human deaths per annum in the EU alone, with associated healthcare costs and productivity losses of €1.5b. The Commission also estimated that approx. 4m patients are estimated to acquire a health-care associated infection in the EU every year.

What is the Department of Agriculture’s AMR strategy?

The Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine’s AMR strategy is based on a prudent and responsible usage policy and includes prohibiting advertising of antibiotics and restricting use exclusively to situations where they have been prescribed by a veterinary practitioner in respect of animals under his/her care.

DAFM has also been collecting data to monitor AMR development and spread in animals and food since 2004 in line with EU Directives. In addition DAFM has provided significant R&D funding on various AMR projects, which examine the link between usage of antimicrobials in the animal sector and the implications for AMR.

The Department is also aiming to increase education and awareness in the agri-food sector in relation to AMR and to this end, is holding a conference on the subject on 24th November 2014 in Teagasc Moorepark, Fermoy.

What is the Department of Health’s AMR Strategy?

The prevention and control of HCAIs and AMR has been a patient safety and public health priority for the Department of Health for several years. Key measures in place since the early 2000’s include:

The promotion of prudent antimicrobial use; improved surveillance and infection prevention and control measures; the development of a number of national guidelines including guidelines for antimicrobial stewardship; MRSA and hand hygiene guidelines and national guidelines for the prevention of infection associated with intravascular lines ventilators and urinary catheters.

New structures in place since September 2011 at national level mirror developments in the HSE’s Clinical Programmes. The National Clinical Programme on Healthcare-associated Infection (HCAI) and AMR prevention oversees implementation of HCAI and AMR reduction programmes across the health system. To date, the Programme has concentrated on three main areas, namely antimicrobial stewardship, hand hygiene and prevention of infections associated with medical devices such as intravascular lines and urinary catheter.

The National Clinical Advisory Group on Healthcare-associated Infection and AMR (established under HSE and RCPI governance) is tasked with providing expert policy advice.  This committee has multidisciplinary membership including patient representation and representation from the Departments of Health and Agriculture, Food and Marine.

The National Clinical Effectiveness Committee (NCEC) published national guidelines for the Prevention and Control of MRSA in December 2013 and the NCEC C.difficile Guideline was published in June 2014.

The Health Information and Quality Authority’s (HIQA’s) National Standards for the Prevention and Control of HCAIs in healthcare settings were published and mandated in 2009 and a monitoring process against these is in place with reports published on the HIQA website (

HCAI and AMR performance indicators have been identified as part of the process against which the National Service Plan of the HSE is monitored by the Department.

Healthy Ireland, a new government framework for action to improve the health and wellbeing of people living in Ireland over the coming generation was launched in March 2013. Healthy Ireland sets out a wide framework of actions that will be undertaken by Government Departments, including the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Marine, public sector organisations, businesses, communities and individuals to improve health and wellbeing and reduce the risks posed to future generations. Healthy Ireland has been developed in response to rising levels of chronic illness, lifestyle trends that threaten health and persistent health inequalities. Healthy Ireland is based on evidence and experience from around the world which shows that to create positive change in population health and wellbeing, a whole of government approach and the involvement of local communities as well as all of society is required. 

View this Press Release as a PDF: DAFMPR 174/2014 (pdf 126Kb) 

Date Released: 20 November 2014