Letters: Antibiotic-resistant infections

How to halt march of the superbugs

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The Independent Online

As the European Parliament public health committee's contact point for the European Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (ECDC), I have been aware of the dramatic rise in superbugs which are unaffected by even the most powerful antibiotics ("Antibiotic-resistant infections spread through Europe", 18 November).

The ECDC's shocking report comes at a time when the Health Protection Agency has conducted a poll revealing a quarter of people mistakenly believe that antibiotics work on coughs and colds. We must educate patients that coughs and sneezes cannot be cured by antibiotics and that taking antibiotics when it's not necessary can do more harm than good.

The more often we use antibiotics, the more likely bacteria are to become resistant to the treatment. Patients are putting their health at risk by asking for antibiotics when they are not required.

Marina Yannakoudakis

MEP for London, Conservative Spokesman on Health in the European Parliament, London N3

Antibiotic resistance is not a new thing. Bacteria have survived for millions of years by evolving mechanisms of resistance. By now these simple single-celled organisms should be good at the game of survival, considering how long they have been doing it.

Interestingly enough, Alexander Fleming, whose observation of the anti-bacterial action of a fungus started the antibiotic revolution in medicine, was one of the first to warn of the dangers of antibiotic resistance back in the 1940s, when the work of a team of scientists at Oxford University turned his discovery of penicillin into a life-saving drug.

In his Nobel lecture in 1945 he warned of "the danger that the ignorant may easily overdose himself and by exposing his microbes to non-lethal quantities of the drug make them resistant". An experienced and wise microbiologist, Fleming knew exactly what to expect.

Sadly, his warnings were ignored and antibiotics have been overused and inappropriately adopted, thus accelerating the problem of resistance. If only we had heeded Fleming!

Kevin Brown

Trust Archivist and Alexander Fleming Laboratory Museum Curator, St Mary's Hospital, London W2

Engineering prize is just the start

The launch of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering will help inspire the new wave of leading engineering minds we so urgently need. It's a turn of the key to unlocking massive challenges facing our world today – from overpopulation to energy security. My institution proposed it. We wholeheartedly support it.

But it will be meaningless to the likes of our railway engineers at Bombardier in Derby who are shortly to become redundant, or to the 500 workers at the Rio Tinto Alco smelting plant in Northumberland who have just heard they are to lose their jobs, or to the 20,000 workers in the solar renewables industry whose jobs are at risk due to a Government volte-face in energy tariffs.

We need a targeted industrial strategy to resurrect manufacturing from 11 per cent of GDP to 20 per cent by 2020. To deliver this, we need the most competitive tax environment in the world. Only if we know where we are heading and with what velocity, will the massive inward investment needed be applied by confident investors. There are good things coming into place such as the new Technology Innovation Centre and the grass-roots of apprenticeship initiatives, but these are mere tactics in the absence of strategy.

Stephen Tetlow

Chief Executive, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers,

London SW1

Following the welcome launch of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, there is a further long-outstanding measure which the Government can take to raise the status of engineers and to enhance the aspirations of young people who consider entering engineering as a profession. This is to control access to the title and job description of engineer in the same way that access to the title of doctor, barrister, solicitor or architect is controlled.

For example in Germany, where engineering is a high-status, high-achieving profession, the idea that an engineer would be called to maintain a central heating boiler would be as surprising as the idea that an architect be called to mend a garden fence. Technicians carry out these tasks and they are skilled tradespeople worthy of their hire; but they are not engineers.

It is not possible to legislate for the colloquial use of the English language; but if job descriptions and advertisements were constrained to using the word technician when they mean technician and engineer when they mean engineer, the profession would be given a vote of confidence and the nation's youth an aspiration.

Paul Beardmore

London N16

Royal Bank of Scotland awards £500m in annual bonuses. The newly announced Queen Elizabeth Prize for engineering intends to reward one individual every two years with £1m. Had the prize been £1m annually for each of the top 500 UK engineers we might get somewhere.

Otherwise,many of the best of our engineering graduates will continue to opt for the City. Aside from the questionable morality of Banks recruiting our best engineering and science talent, the process deprives the real UK economy of this talent and means fewer wealth-creating opportunities.

Dr David Rhodes


Singing for a better world

My normal regard for Howard Jacobson's idiosyncratic view of the world was somewhat diminished by his piece on "protests" on 12 November. I understand his disinclination to "dance in a ring"; but what is wrong with aiming at a society including peace and joy, artistic expression, music and love? Would he rather the protesters sit around singing songs glorifying the politics of hate?

The "Occupy" movement has its roots across a wide spectrum of English society. The general feeling that many things are wrong, but especially the vast and increasing gulf between rich and poor, has mobilised the protesters, and a good job too. In pre-credit-crunch Britain, we bewailed the apathy of many people. Now, many have had enough.

You can understand all the complexities of the current crisis, have few answers and still be on the side of the angels. Bring on the musicians! Bring on the singing! Let joy be unconfined at the prospect of a changed world!

Zeb Davies

Poynton, Cheshire

Tidy streets and public spaces in the spurious cause of health and safety and unencumbered tourism. Is this the best we can expect from elected representatives ("St Paul's camp stays despite legal threat", 18 November)? And is the Cathedral content that the Corporation of London's action to evict the protesters may lead to violent confrontation on its doorstep of the kind we have seen in New York?

It's time that politicians engaged with the Occupy movement and the business community to work out a more open and inclusive economic model that represents the interests of all citizens, and puts an end to a form of capitalism that has wilfully trashed our natural capital and threatens the capacity of the planet to support us.

And the Church should seize the opportunity presented by the protesters to reclaim its role as a champion of the poor.

Nick Reeves

Executive Director, Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, London WC1

In Zuccotti Park last month a policeman I was speaking to expressed his certainty that the Occupy Wall Street protesters would move on with the change of seasons. "If you've ever felt a New York winter," he gurned, "you'll know what I'm talking about."

And yet despite the rain and snow and plummeting temperatures the occupation in Wall Street continued. Despite the tear gas, flash grenades and rubber bullets the occupation in Oakland continued.

The Occupy movement is about much more than camping in parks, and the concerns that the movement is articulating are unlikely to go away any time soon.

Stefan Simanowitz

London NW3

Transparent newspapers

When Leveson reaches his compromise – it is the English way – can I make some suggestions about how The Independent can promote best practice?

How about all articles referencing the name of every journalist who worked on it – including the evil sub-editors who produce those disgraceful headlines.

Secondly, each article should carry a set of symbols at the top (like hotel facilities on websites) showing how the information was gained: a boot would represent door-stepping and a legal wig would show if m'learned friends were involved. The involvement of private dicks and cash payments would be represented by something suitable. I'm sure that readers could come up with a few suggestions.

Finally, suspend a journalist's and an editor's licence to practise until a period of reflection has been undertaken. The system would be similar to football. We could also have the number of "yellow" and "red" cards each journalist received in a season at the beginning of an article so that we readers could make up our minds about the veracity of what we are being told.

Declan Jones


In brief...

'Conspiracies' can be true

Nick Harding ("Truth and lies", 12 November) seems unable to differentiate between daft ideas (alien body-snatching, reptilian world-domination) and "conspiracies" – the "real" reasons for events, which contradict the official version, some of which turn out to be true.

Perhaps Mr Harding believes that Tony Blair believed that Saddam Hussein had, and was planning to use against the UK, weapons of mass destruction; and that President Bush really believed that Saddam was linked to al-Qa'ida; and that they were merely proved wrong.

Mr Harding may well believe that mistrust of authority is detrimental to the democratic process. I don't.

Roy Hiscock

London N16

May's record

Anthony Rodriguez describes Theresa May's record as one of "integrity and sagacity" (letter, 17 November). Theresa May was happy to tell a tabloid-style fable to the Tory conference about a man who was allowed to stay in the country because he owned a cat. And when Kenneth Clarke pointed out her mistake she did not apologise. Her failure to take responsibility for mistakes made on her ministerial watch comes as no surprise.

Julian Gardiner

Borehamwood, Hertfordshire

Own goal

There is an omission from the comparisons between bankers and footballers (Letters, 18 November). If footballers do not perform as they should they lose their win bonuses and end up playing in the lower leagues. Bankers on the other hand ....

Mike Wood

Thornton, Lancashire

Patriotic vow

A better National Anthem (Letters, 18 November) would be "I Vow to Thee My Country". It has the perfect mix of patriotism and tune, without being excessively monarchial.

Tom Jeanes

Taunton, Somerset