Antibiotic Action is asking the UK Government to examine why there are no new antibiotics available as cases of gonorrhoea jump in Britain.

This comes as the first Gonorrhoea Resistance Action Plan (GRASP) for England and Wales is published this week by the Health Protection Agency, recommending a heightened national response to combat this serious threat.

Gonorrhoea is the second most common bacterial sexually transmitted infection (STI) in England. In 2011, new diagnoses rose to nearly 21,000, jumping 25% in one year. Over a third of cases were in men who have sex with men, up from around a quarter in 2010. GRASP 2011 data suggest that up to third of reported cases were repeat gonorrhoea infections.

Professor Laura Piddock, director of Antibiotic Action, said: “The message is simple – government must act now to avert this and similar crises that threaten the health of our nation”. She continued “The publication of the GRASP Action Plan is a good example of why we need new drugs, and begs the question why they are not being developed for this infection”.

Antibiotic Action is a UK-led global initiative established by the British Society for Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, and is calling for investment in solutions to “the empty antibiotic pipeline”.

Antibiotic Action is not alone in calling for urgent action; two weeks ago the chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, called on the government to add the threat of infection resistance to front-line antibiotics to the civil emergencies risk register – considering it as greater threat to society as terrorism.

Prof Piddock says that Antibiotic Action is working to establish an All Party Parliamentary Group on Antibiotics, which the shadow Health Minister Jamie Reed has agreed to chair. She said: “We call on government to inform us how they plan to tackle this problem.Antibiotic stewardship programmes such as the “Start smart, then focus” initiative are not of direct relevance to the treatment of this infection and immediate action is needed.

“Furthermore, we are unsure what effect placing antibiotic resistant gonorrhoea on the national risk register will have. We simply cannot afford to wait for others to act, or to consign action plans such as that published by GRASP today to the office shelf. Inaction is not an option”.

The GRASP Action Plan supports the public health control of gonorrhoea, and gonorrhoea resistance, by providing guidance on robust and timely data collection, rapid detection of treatment failures, adherence to management guidelines, and actions to reduce gonorrhoea transmission.