Professor Dame Sally Davies described it as a "ticking time bomb".

She warned that routine operations could become deadly in just 20 years if we lose the ability to fight infection.

Dame Sally urged the government to raise the issue during next month's G8 Summit in London.

Dame Sally said: "If we don't take action, then we may all be back in an almost 19th Century environment where infections kill us as a result of routine operations. We won't be able to do a lot of our cancer treatments or organ transplants."

She said pharmaceutical companies needed to be encouraged to develop new drugs, because the manufacture of antibiotics was not viewed as profitable.

"We haven't had a new class of antibiotics since the late 80s and there are very few antibiotics in the pipeline of the big pharmaceutical companies that develop and make drugs," she said.