FANCY a story of compassion versus greed? In fact, of life versus death – quite possibly your own or one of your relatives. The story’s name: antibiotics.

It’s strange how quickly we’ve come to take this wonder drug for granted. Before the discovery of penicillin by Alexander Fleming, millions died of infections we have come to consider mere scratches with the help of antibiotics.

How beyond crazy then this unique resource for the whole of our species is being squandered to benefit a relatively small number of people globally.

According to England’s chief medical officer, Dame Sally Davies, the threat against effective antibiotic based treatments is so severe we should consider it as dangerous as climate change.

Indeed, this sober scientist is calling for an Extinction Rebellion-style campaign to prevent antibiotics becoming ineffective in the face of reckless overuse and an absence of regulation.

In September 2018 Davies warned a committee of MPs: “We will be given the choice of, well you can have an expensive treatment that’s likely to cure you, but you’ll get an infection that is likely to be resistant and you’ll probably die of it... Meanwhile all transplants will be out of the window because they are all prone to infections. There will be a lot of suffering and modern medicine will be lost.”

Strong stuff. Needless to say our rulers when it comes to regulating medicine – and by that I don’t just refer to the usual well-heeled establishment politicians, but big business interests pulling their and civil servants’ strings as the NHS implodes towards privatisation – have done nothing to prevent Dame Sally’s prediction coming true.

Perhaps our MPs would justify their relative inertia on this issue by pointing out it is not just a UK but worldwide problem.

They might point out antibiotics have been banned in EU countries and the US for deliberate “growth promotion” to fatten up meat.

Yet even in the EU and US, the use of strong antibiotics critical to human health is still allowed on animals despite scientific warnings about the consequences.

Meanwhile antibiotics are routinely misused all over the world and in surprising ways. Who among us would imagine they are used in spraying citrus fruit in the US?

One way of dealing with antibiotic resistance would, of course, be to develop new strains of drugs. Simple: invest huge resources into scientific research and trials, utilising the incredible know-how and skills of scientists educated and trained largely by the taxpayer.

It is here the story becomes political.

Because this astonishing, life-giving medicine is unfortunately tainted by a sin international Big Pharma and its super-rich shareholders can never forgive: new antibiotics don’t make enough bucks. Not only do they require lots of costly trials, even when developed there is a natural desire not to overuse them in case antibiotic resistance arises.

As a result, the world’s largest pharmaceutical companies have steered clear of antibiotics in favour of more profitable drugs.

As ever in our current economic system, money is put before people.

This nonsense cannot be allowed to continue. Just as privatised energy firms have a shareholder interest in burning lots of fossil fuels, so Big Pharma is incentivised to develop high-profit drugs at the expense of basic life-saving ones.

Which brings us to the core problem. Greed for money is presented in our society as the only thing which gets people up in the morning to do something beneficial.

Actually, people are prepared to work for not just money but the public good. Underpaid nurses and inspiringly kind care workers are living examples.

The discoverer of penicillin himself, Alexander Fleming, chose not to patent his discovery and thereby become a multi-millionaire, stating, “I did not invent penicillin. Nature did that. I only discovered it by accident.”

He wished to develop a cheap and effective drug that would be available to help all the people of the world. Emulating his generosity requires bringing pharmaceutical companies into public ownership as soon as possible, so they research and produce medicine for the common good, rather than rich people’s bank accounts.