The Government has denied that there are antibiotics shortages, amid fears caused by suspected cases of Strep A.
Pharmaceutical bodies and the BMA have warned that there are shortages following the UKHSA’s advice last week for GPs and other healthcare professionals to ‘have a low threshold’ for prescribing antibiotics to children presenting with symptoms associated with group A streptococcal infections.
Pulse reported today that one ICB is advising GPs consider reverting to paper prescriptions due to potential antibiotics prescriptions.
Speaking in Parliament today (7 December), Prime Minister Rishi Sunak admitted a higher number of cases of Strep A were being recorded this year.
However, he added: ‘There are no current shortages of drugs available to treat this and there are well-established procedures in place to ensure that that remains the case.’
The Department of Health and Social Care is not understood to be aware of any supply issues of amoxicillin and a department spokesperson said there were ‘antibiotics available’ to treat Strep A.
But Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), told Pulse: ‘They’re saying there isn’t a shortage, there isn’t a problem – where is the stock then? The stock is not coming through to pharmacists.’
She said she was hearing about shortages from members ‘across the UK’ and stressed that frontline staff were having to explain to patients that oral liquid penicillin and amoxicillin, as well as other antibiotics, were proving ‘difficult to get hold of at the moment’, despite government messaging. Ms Hannbeck urged GPs to work closely and communicate with pharmacists to manage the situation.
Jasmine Shah, head of advice and support services at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), said members were having to work ‘very hard’ to obtain stocks of these antibiotics ‘and some lines are currently unavailable’.
‘We have been advised by wholesalers that most lines will be replenished soon, but we cannot say exactly when that will be,’ she said.
Dr Kieran Sharrock, BMA England GP committee acting chair said: ‘While the Government insists there are sufficient supplies of antibiotics nationally, this will be little comfort to pharmacists, GPs and patients who are experiencing shortages locally, and therefore those responsible for supply chains must double down on efforts to ensure there are enough medicines to meet demand.
‘It is further crucial that there is clear and effective public health messaging on Strep A to ensure that patients and parents and guardians know where to go if they do need help and to reassure the vast majority of people who will not go on to become seriously unwell.
‘But with such an increased demand on already overstretched services, we need publicly stated assurances and evidence from government that a nationally co-ordinated response is underway – one that does not pile more pressure on practices, GP out of hours services and urgent care centres that are already running at capacity looking after patients with a range of conditions. This means directing people to NHS 111 while ensuring there are enough call handlers with the right clinical guidance, so that GPs can continue helping those who are most in need.’
On Monday, Pulse reported that GPs had been advised to ‘have a low threshold’ for prescribing antibiotics to children presenting with symptoms.
GP consultations for scarlet fever and disease notifications are rising more steeply than expected for this time of year as are cases of invasive group A streptococcus, although less pronounced, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned.
A total of 4,622 notifications of scarlet fever were received from week 37 to 46 this season (2022 to 2023) in England, with 851 notifications received in week 46 compared with an average of 1,294 (range 258 to 2,008) for this same period (weeks 37 to 46) in the previous five years, UKHSA figures show.
Welsh health minister Eluned Morgan said that the increase in demand for antibiotics to treat suspected cases of Strep A has led to some pharmacies in Wales experiencing shortages of stock.
In a statement, she said: ‘We are working with the UK Government medicines supply team and other partners to make sure pharmacies in Wales have the supplies they need. We are confident suppliers are working to address any supply issues, should people have difficulty in obtaining their prescription they may need to visit a different pharmacy or in some cases ask their GP to prescribe an alternative treatment.’
Scotland’s health secretary Humza Yousaf said yesterday that he was advised there were no shortages of penicillin in Scotland; while a Northern Ireland health department spokesperson said UK antibiotic supplies remained ‘good’, but that ‘local level supply issues for some antibiotics had arisen’ due to increase in demand.
‘This is necessitating engagement with the supply chain to ensure that supplies are distributed to where they need to be to meet demand, including NI,’ he said.