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Wellcome Monitor 2020: Public perception of drug-resistant infections

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Published: November 2020

The Wellcome Monitor is a study of the British adult population’s awareness of, knowledge of, engagement with, and attitudes towards, science and health research. The drug-resistant infections study is the second of the series.

The Wellcome Monitor has previously explored public attitudes to drug resistant infections (in 2015 and 2018). This report focuses on public attitudes to drug-resistant infections during the start of the first of wave of coronavirus in England, Scotland and Wales.  It looks at the perceived risk of drug resistant infections to public health, people’s antibiotic use and prescription behaviours, public opinion on their potential impact to reduce drug resistant infections and who is considered most responsible, and public willingness to undertake various measures to do so.


1. Fewer people view drug-resistant infections as a very high risk (45%) compared to 2018 (54%).

However, a large majority of people (88%) view drug-resistant infections as fairly or very high risk to public health.

Younger people, people in Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) groups, and people with lower incomes are all less likely to view drug-resistant infections as fairly or very high risk.

2. Most people take all their antibiotics in accordance with good practice for reducing antimicrobial resistance.

Younger people, people struggling financially, and those less confident making decisions about their health are more likely to not take all of their antibiotics, or take them at times that were not recommended.

3. A large majority of people (81%) have heard of the term ‘drug-resistant infections’ and feel they have at least some understanding of it. 

4. Nearly half (45%) of people correctly identified what antibiotics can or cannot treat.

5. More people (49%) think the public can have a big impact on reducing drug-resistant infections than in 2018 (39%).

People who struggle financially, people without degrees and people in BAME groups are less likely to think that others like them can have a big impact on drug-resistant infections.


Fieldwork for this wave of the Wellcome Monitor was conducted using the random-probability NatCen Panel. The NatCen Panel is a panel of people recruited from the British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey, a high-quality, random probability face-to-face survey. Those agreeing to join the Panel are then invited to take part in additional short surveys covering a range of different topics either online or over the phone. By using a probability-based sample and allowing those without internet access to take part this design reduces the risk of bias compared to online-only surveys which exclude those who do not have access to, or are less confident using, the internet or surveys using convenience samples which are more likely to include people who are more ‘available’ or particularly want to express their views.

Fieldwork for this study began on the 30th of March 2020, one week after the lockdown was announced, and ended on the 26th of April 2020. A total of 2,651 people took part in the survey. This was comprised of a general population and ‘ethnic boost’ sample.  2,403 of the 4,058 panel members invited to take part, as part of the general population sample took part, giving a 59% survey response rate. Taking account of nonresponse at the BSA interview and at the point of recruitment to the panel, the overall response rate was 15%. The ‘boost’ of participants from minority ethnic groups increased their number from 178 to 379, allowing analysis of the experiences of people from more specific ethnic groups although small sample sizes limit the statistical power to detect differences.

Download from the Wellcome Trust