Antibiotics are becoming “increasingly useless,” say Members of the European Parliament (MEPs), who are calling for the drugs to be made prescription-only in order to combat rising levels of resistance.

Different attitudes to the use and control of antibiotics throughout the European Union (EU) have led to wide variations in resistance; some member states’ use of the drugs is three or four times greater than others. Nevertheless, the frequent movement of consumers from one member state to another is making resistance a Europe-wide problem, according to the MEPs. Therefore, they say that inappropriate use of antibiotics must be monitored and rational use encouraged, with guidelines to ensure the drugs are prescribed only when strictly necessary, efforts to improve marker tests to encourage more rational use and, where appropriate, the establishment of hygiene codes.

Special attention should also be paid to the methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria, add the MEPs, in their response to the Parliament’s wide-ranging proposals for a strategic approach to health in the EU over the next five years.

Given the existence of new threats to health throughout the EU, the parliamentary report calls for health to be addressed as a key political issue of the Lisbon Strategy, which aims to make the EU the most competitive economy in the world and achieve full employment by 2010. Spending on health, particularly on prevention and early diagnosis of diseases, is not only a cost but also an investment that could be evaluated in terms of Healthy Life Years (HLYs) as a Strategy indicator, the MEPs suggest.

The comprehensive report also calls on the European Commission to draw up disease prevention efforts covering the period to 2013, including vaccination campaigns “where effective products exist.”

It urges the Commission and member states to support research and promote the prevention, early diagnosis and suitable treatment of chronic diseases, and also to “explore…the synergies between scientific and technological research, particularly as regards new kinds of research in medical areas that are currently underfunded on the one hand, and the development of new medical sectors and therapies on the other,” in order for everyone to have access to these therapies which, it says, “can have a very positive impact on the health status of EU citizens.”

The MEPs also recommend that the Commission and member states should establish centres of excellence for each important disease group, which should serve as a point of reference, information and guidance for patients and their families, doctors, health care workers, industry and others.

- The report – Together for health: a strategic approach for the EU 2008-13 – was adopted by Parliament with 554 votes in favour, 23 against and 21 abstentions.