The UK has launched a five-year action plan and 20-year vision for antimicrobial resistance (AMR), prompting health secretary Matt Hancock to state that AMR is "as big a danger to humanity as climate change or warfare”.

The plans outline the UK's contribution to containing and controlling AMR in health, animals, the environment and the food chain, and were developed in close collaboration with the devolved UK administrations.

Targets include cutting the number of drug-resistant infections by 10% (5,000 infections) by 2025, reducing the use of antibiotics in humans by 15%, and preventing at least 15,000 patients from contracting infections as a result of their healthcare each year by 2024.

“Antibiotic resistance is one of the biggest and most dangerous threats to modern healthcare", according to Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chair of the Royal College of GPs.

“We need to get to a stage where antibiotics are not seen by patients as a ‘catch all’ for every illness, but rather as a serious drug option, usually reserved for when all other treatment options have either failed or been deemed inappropriate."

Research by analytics firm Exasol has shown that the UK is already well on its way to achieving the targets, as antibiotic prescribing has already fallen 16% in the past five years.

New technology will also be used to gather real-time patient data, helping clinicians understand when to use and preserve antibiotics in their treatment.

Dr Nicholas Jones, partner and patent attorney at Withers & Rogers who specialises in the pharmaceutical and life sciences sector, commented:

“At a time when the cost of drug discovery is rising across the board, particularly in the exciting area of biologics, which is generating drugs that are more targeted and effective, pharmaceutical companies have struggled to allocate the funding needed to address the growing problem of AMR.

“This strategy will help to reverse the risk-versus-reward profile of antibiotic research and bring about the step change needed to develop new antibiotic drugs. However, real change in this area will only happen when other governments around the world also act, and the UK could potentially lead the way.

Antibiotic resistance is predicted to kill 10 million people every year by 2050 without action, as outlined in the independent review on antimicrobial resistance. Without effective antibiotics, straightforward, everyday operations like caesarean sections or hip replacements could become too dangerous to perform.