RCPE Press Release

29 November 2010

Doctors have voted antibiotics as the most important medical development in the last 50 years in a poll organised by the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh (RCPE).

The poll was conducted to mark a forthcoming RCPE conference celebrating five decades of medical achievement [1]. The RCPE has a widespread membership throughout Scotland, the UK and internationally and surveyed its members on the Top 20 most important medical developments to have occurred in the last 50 years. Antibiotics came first in the poll when analysing the results from a Scottish, UK and worldwide perspective.

While antibiotics were first discovered in the 1940s their medical application and further development really only took off in the 1960s since which time they have saved countless lives worldwide and have become the most important weapon at a doctor’s disposal in fighting infection.

The development and use of antibiotics was followed at the top of the poll by vaccination (against infectious diseases) and developments in imaging (most notably CT and MRI scanning). A full list of the Top 20 most important developments is included within this press release [2].

Dr Neil Dewhurst, President of the Royal College of Physicians of Edinburgh, said,

“During the last 50 years we have witnessed many major advances in medicine, some of which would have seemed inconceivable to doctors and the public alike in the 1950s and 1960s. These advances now provide patients with unprecedented levels of medical treatment and have been instrumental in both alleviating and preventing many forms of disease.

“As an individual, it is difficult to say which singular development has been the most important, as all doctors will have their own views regarding which development has been the most beneficial within their own area of specialisation, be it cardiology or infectious diseases.

“The central role of the RCPE is to promote the highest standards in medicine both nationally and internationally. In celebrating our 50th anniversary symposium, focussing on Five Decades of Medical Progress, we thought it appropriate to survey our members in order to ask them what they believed to be the most important developments in order to highlight and celebrate these medical milestones.

“From the results of this survey it is clear that doctors throughout Scotland, UK and internationally believe the most important developments to be in relation to the availability of effective antibiotics and vaccination. Whilst agreeing with this point, it is also vital that doctors and patients are aware of the dangers of over-using antibiotics and that antibiotics are prescribed safely and wisely in order to reduce the risk of drug-resistance and problems like MRSA and C. difficile.

“It is also interesting to note how significantly Scottish doctors and scientists have contributed to these global developments. For centuries Scotland has had a reputation as a leader in medical innovation and we are gratified that this tradition continues to this day”.


Contact: Graeme McAlister on 07733-263453 or 07808-939395


[1] RCPE St. Andrew’s Day Symposium: Five Decades of Medical Progress, 2-3 December 2010,