January 27, 2023

More pharmacies have claimed they cannot get antibiotics – as the government continues to insist there is “no shortage”.

Pharmacy director Zeshan Rehmani criticized the Health Ministry for being “out of touch” after mooted proposals to give antibiotics to children in schools to help prevent diseases, including Strep A – saying: “There are no medicines. Today we have not been able to get any penicillin in stock at all.”

Addressing the issue during the Prime Minister’s questions today, Rishi Sunak said: “There are currently no shortages of drugs available to treat this and there are well-established procedures to ensure it stays that way.”

To date, at least nine children in the UK have died from complications caused by the Strep A infection.

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What is Strep A?

Earlier on Wednesday, Health Minister Steve Barclay told Sky News he had been reassured by medical providers there is a “good supply” of penicillinalthough he admitted that some GPs may have shortages as supplies move.

“I contacted the team last night – we have a permanent team in the department doing this on a permanent basis – and they assured me we have good stock. The medical suppliers should notify us if they have any shortages.

“Now GPs can sometimes have certain peaks when they have a lot of demand in an area, and that’s quite routine, we can move stock around our depots.

“As of last night, when we checked (with suppliers), they said they can assure us that they have a good supply and they are moving it to meet demand.”

‘severe shortage’

But Dr Leyla Hannbeck, managing director of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said if there’s enough stock, “pharmacies don’t get it”.

She tweeted: “Pharmacists are reporting a shortage of amoxicillin liquid for children at a time when Strep A cases are on the rise.”

And she told Sky News that wholesalers across the country have all run out of stock, adding that demand for antibiotics has surged since November.

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Strep A breakout in charts

Dr. Hannbeck said if Mr Barclay has the supply, “we would very much like to see it flowing through the pharmacies”.

She added: “This is not a local problem – it is happening across the country.”

Sri Kanaparthy, owner of four pharmacies – three in County Durham and one in Barrow-in-Furness – said “there is a serious shortage” of antibiotics, especially in liquid form.

“We have eight suppliers and every supplier is out of stock (of penicillin and amoxicillin).”

Of Mr Barclay’s comments, he said: “It’s quite frustrating, if you don’t acknowledge the problem, you’re not going to fix it.”

He blamed increased demand, but also “a lack of planning,” before adding, “Pharmacy funding has been frozen for the past five years.”

Inzamam Rashid piece on the growing problem of Strep A, colds and flu in the North West of England

More pressure on the GGD

Becky Elmes, the owner of Bournemouth’s Ferndown pharmacy, accused Barclay of spouting “a load of nonsense”.

“We have huge problems getting antibiotics, especially the fluids for the kids,” she said.

“I am very angry that the Health Minister has told the public that there is no problem, he has no idea what is really happening on the ground.

“We can’t provide basic antibiotics to sick children. It’s starting to get dangerous, something bad is going to happen if the government doesn’t do something about it.”

Ms Elmes said there have been shortages for the past six months but the problem has gotten worse in recent weeks.

She said five of the UK’s largest wholesale suppliers have run out of amoxicillin and penicillin, so she “don’t know where Steve Barclay gets his information from”.

“The whole supply chain is a complete mess,” she said.

Ms Elmes warned that the shortages will put more pressure on other NHS services.

“If it’s out of stock, we have to refer them back to 911 to see if they can get an alternative prescription,” she said.

“Last night there was a kid who was really bad. Their mom asked what to do and I said maybe you should go to the hospital.”

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Ninth child dies in Strep A outbreak

Read more:
What is Strep A and what are the symptoms?
Strep A generally causes mild infections – why the spate of deaths now?

A GP in Putney, Dr Barnes, told Sky News that penicillin fluid was not available in seven pharmacies last night.

“We need to provide alternatives. Still no chloramphenicol eye drops for conjunctivitis…we use Fucidin instead, which is much more expensive.”

Vikki Pierce, a nurse from Crawley, West Sussex, said her two-year-old son regularly suffers from tonsillitis and developed a fever on Monday.

After a GP prescribed penicillin, she “spent four hours driving around pharmacies to get some”.

“I went to five pharmacies in my area, there were a lot of parents queuing for antibiotics that the pharmacies didn’t have. I called a pharmacy in a town 15 miles away who had some in stock and they agreed to get it for me I got there at half past eight in the evening.”

Stockpiling after reports of shortages

Sky News correspondent Paul Kelso said after speaking to the pharmaceutical industry “they will tell you what the Health Secretary and Prime Minister have said today … that there is no supply problem”.

He added that members of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) – which represents companies researching, developing and manufacturing over-the-counter medicines – also claim there is no problem with the supply chain and no shortages.

But he said they did point out that when there are shortage reports in the media, in light of the Strep A outbreak, “you make sure people are stockpiling and trying to make sure they don’t run short.”

“So it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”

He added: “It has to be said that some of the drugs that have been prescribed – amoxicillin is one of them. There have been shortages of that particular drug in the United States and in Europe.”

“It seems like there’s a problem getting those supplies of drugs into the hands of pharmacists. That’s the only way you can explain the drug industry’s consistent line on high streets that they’re unable to meet prescriptions from patients who have been prescribed by general practitioners.

“But ultimately, if you’re a patient or parent of someone who’s been prescribed, all that really matters is whether you can get your hands on the drugs.”

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