Thousands of grieving families are not told that their loved one died after contracting a superbug, one of Britain’s leading health leaders warned.
Dame Sally Davies, the government’s special envoy on antimicrobial resistance, says doctors aren’t writing it on death certificates for fear of being blamed.
The former Chief Medical Officer is conducting urgent calls to the NHS to begin recording how many patients who contract these infections die.
It comes after data revealed that the most deadly infections of drug-resistant superbugs have increased by nearly a third in five years.
165 new antibiotic resistant infections are detected every day.
Dame Sally said: “People don’t even know that their relatives are suffering from antibiotic-resistant infections or that they die with them.
“It is a rather unpleasant situation.
“We don’t put it on death certificates. I would like to tell a relative that your patient died because we didn’t do a good enough job because we allowed him to contract a drug-resistant infection?
“I suspect there is something behavioral in there.”
Experts from a crisis event at the Frontline Club in central London warned that growing infections are making conditions such as urinary tract infections potentially fatal for those already frail and ill.
They said the rise is already threatening modern medicine by making routine procedures such as hip and cesarean operations more dangerous.
Public Health England data on the most severe resistant infections that have already reached the bloodstream increased by 32% according to a five-year review.
The main antibiotic resistant infections that reached the bloodstream increased from 13,000 in 2014 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. There are 165 new antibiotic resistant infections every day.
An article published in Lancet last year estimated that 2,172 deaths were attributable to antibiotic-resistant infections in 2015.
Dame Sally, at the event hosted by the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, added: “We really have to start cataloging this.
“If the coding of the death certificate is carried out by non-clinical personnel, it does not assume its importance.
“It’s complex enough to do and people need training so that doesn’t happen. We didn’t invest in the effort.”
Routine treatments such as chemotherapy for cancer patients are one of many that may become ineffective for patients who cannot receive effective antibiotics.
Electoral journalist Madlen Davies of the Bureau of Investigative Journalism said that younger doctors often leave resistant birth certificate infections when they could be included as a secondary cause of death.
He said, “They put the root cause. Maybe in microbiology reports they will say there is a resistant infection, but they don’t want to communicate it because it implies that they played a role in that death. “
Susan Hopkins, deputy director of the National Infection Service, Public Health England, said: “Current estimates suggest that antibiotic-resistant infections kill over 2000 people per year.
“Public Health England supports better documentation of drug-resistant deaths so we can better capture the burden on our society.”