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British pharmacists report shortages of strep antibiotics | Streptococcus A


Pharmacists are reporting UK-wide shortages of antibiotics used to treat Strep A, despite the Health Secretary insisting the government is ‘not aware’ of a problem.

Demand for penicillin and amoxicillin has increased in recent days as the number of strep A cases has increased among children in schools. Independent pharmacies say they cannot restock antibiotics because wholesalers say there is no availability.

Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Times Radio on Wednesday that officials were “not aware of any shortages” and that drugmakers were “required to let us know if there are any health issues.” supply, and they didn’t tell us about it”.

Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said pharmacists across the country were reporting they could not restock many types of antibiotics and were dealing with angry customers who she said had been misled by the Health Secretary.

“The government can say what it wants but we are on the front line and we know what is going on,” she said. “I want to make it very clear the frustration of healthcare professionals because we don’t want to let our patients down, we have people coming in, parents, we just need to have better planning. Our hands are very much tied, the government must act now.

She said she had received reports of patients visiting 12 pharmacies to try to find one of the antibiotics used to treat strep A.

Hannbeck said there was a wider systemic problem of regular drug shortages, exemplified by the HRT shortage earlier in the year.

“We constantly find ourselves in situations like this where as soon as the demand increases, we cannot get the supply that we need. It’s becoming a norm now and it’s very difficult for frontline health professionals to deal with that, especially when the government says there’s supply – they should just say we’re looking to make sure that the pharmacies get it.

She said pharmacies had repeatedly asked the Department of Health and Social Care to bring wholesalers and manufacturers together around a table to discuss how to prevent future shortages, but had been rebuffed.

His understanding is that manufacturers are blaming raw material bottlenecks from coronavirus lockdowns in East Asia for the shortages.

Dr Andrew Hill, a medicine expert at the University of Liverpool, said amoxicillin was in short supply worldwide, with health authorities in France, Spain, the United States, Canada and Australia all pointing to a lack of supply, after “increased demand for this drug, given recent waves of different infections, mainly in children”.

Strep A is a common infection in children and most cases are mild or asymptomatic, although it can cause scarlet fever, strep throat and bacteria can enter the bloodstream and lungs causing sepsis .

Antibiotic treatment is usually only prescribed in the most severe cases due to concerns about antibiotic resistance. However, recent guidelines have asked GPs to be particularly vigilant for strep A, which may mean they are more likely to prescribe antibiotics.

Barclay said that in areas where there had been a surge in demand, there were “well-established procedures in terms of moving stock between our wholesale depots”.

He said: ‘We have a dedicated team permanently in the department who do this day in and day out, and they reassured me – I checked with them again last night, knowing I was out in the media this morning – and they said they weren’t aware of any shortages, but sometimes it’s obvious that you get spikes in demand in a particular area and the stock has moved accordingly.

Kieran Sharrock, acting chairman of the British Medical Association’s General Practitioners’ Committee, said anxiety over the spread of Strep A and drug shortages “can lead to increased workloads and disruption for GPs because they need to find alternative treatment options or prioritize those most in need.”

He said: “While the government insists that there are enough antibiotics nationwide, that will be of little comfort to pharmacists, GPs and patients who are experiencing local shortages, and therefore , supply chain managers need to work harder to ensure there are enough medicines to meet demand.

He said a public health campaign on Strep A is needed to ensure parents know where to seek help and most people don’t get seriously ill, as well as government assurances that a coordinated national response that did not “pile more pressure” on the health service was underway.

Dr Zara Aziz, a GP in Bristol, said local pharmacies were experiencing shortages of the antibiotic syrup, usually prescribed for throat infections ‘as demand in general practice for sick children/worried parents becomes relentless’ . Instead, GPs prescribed tablets and capsules and gave advice on how to encourage children to swallow them. She said it was “worrying” if someone who really needed antibiotics couldn’t get them.

Pharmacist Sri Kanaparthy tweeted a picture of the dashboard he uses to order antibiotics, which appears to show there is no stock available for both penicillin and amoxicillin.

A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: ‘There are antibiotics available to treat Strep A and your GP will be able to prescribe the most appropriate treatment.

“Strep A usually causes a mild infection producing sore throat or scarlet fever which can be easily treated with antibiotics. However, it is important for parents to be on the lookout for symptoms and seek medical attention as soon as possible so their child can be treated.

“Be sure to speak to a medical professional if your child shows signs of deterioration after an episode of scarlet fever, a sore throat or a respiratory infection.”



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