Strep A antibiotic deliveries sped up amid fears in NHS of local shortages

Deliveries of Strep A antibiotics are being sped up to pharmacies across the country, the NHS has said, amid fears of local shortages of treatments for the bacterial infection.

David Webb, the NHS chief pharmaceutical officer, said there may be a “limited supply” of antibiotics - including penicillin - in some retailers and pharmacies due to a surge in demand for the medicines.

It comes during an outbreak of the Strep A bacterial infection, with cases higher than usual for this time of year.

Strep A bacteria usually only causes mild illness, including scarlet fever and strep throat, which is treated with antibiotics. But in rare cases, it can progress into a potentially life-threatening disease if it gets into the bloodstream.

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Fifteen children have now died from conditions related to the infection.

Mr Webb sent a letter to pharmacists across the country on Thursday on the supply of antibiotics amid reports of shortages at local pharmacies.

The Independent has spoken to parents who initially struggled to get medicine for children with Strep A infections this week, being turned away by multiple pharmacies.

Mr Webb said: “Local pharmacy teams may be experiencing a temporary interruption of supply of some relevant antibiotics due to increased demand. On a national level, sufficient stock exists for the NHS.

“We are working closely with the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), which has overall responsibility for medicines supply and has taken actions to help ensure medicines continue to be available.”

Describing the situation with supply, the NHS chief pharmaceutical officer said: “Supplies of antibiotics for the treatment of Group A Strep have seen a surge in demand and may be in limited supply at certain wholesalers and pharmacies, particularly phenoxymethylpenicillin [Penicillin V] presentations.”

He added: “Supplies are readily available with manufacturers and deliveries into wholesalers and pharmacies are being expedited and are expected in the coming days.”

Dr Leyla Hannbeck from the Association for Multiple Pharmacies told The Independent earlier this week there had been high demand for antibiotics over the past month – but pharmacists have been told medicines are out of stock when they go to order them.

The government has insisted there is no national shortage of antibiotics amid the Strep A outbreak.

Leading experts have suggested the surge in Strep A cases may be occurring earlier than usual this year due to the impact of the Covid pandemic.

“We normally see the group Strep A outbreaks a little bit later on in the season, late winter or early spring, Sir Andrew Pollard from the University of Oxford’s Paediatric Department told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Friday.

He said: “We saw a huge reduction in many of the infections that children normally suffer during the pandemic because there was less contact between individuals.

“I think at this stage it is difficult to know overall whether that means there has been a total reduction in the number of infections, which I think it probably will turn out to be the case.

“But it does mean some children are meeting some germs for the first time now after the pandemic and that is why we are seeing slight increases in some diseases during this year so far.”

Earlier this week, Dr Susan Hopkins of the UK Health and Security Agency similarly suggested the Covid pandemic could be behind the unusually early outbreak of Strep A cases.


Advice from UK Health Security Agency on Strep A

The first signs of scarlet fever can be flu-like symptoms, including a high temperature, a sore throat and swollen neck glands (a large lump on the side of your neck).

A rash appears 12 to 48 hours later. It looks like small, raised bumps and starts on the chest and tummy, then spreads. The rash makes your skin feel rough, like sandpaper. The rash will be less visible on darker skin but will still feel like sandpaper.

Contact NHS 111 or your GP if:

  • your child is getting worse

  • your child is feeding or eating much less than normal

  • your child has had a dry nappy for 12 hours or more or shows other signs of dehydration

  • your baby is under 3 months and has a temperature of 38C, or is older than 3 months and has a temperature of 39C or higher

  • your baby feels hotter than usual when you touch their back or chest, or feels sweaty

  • your child is very tired or irritable

Call 999 or go to A&E if:

  • your child is having difficulty breathing – you may notice grunting noises or their tummy sucking under their ribs

  • there are pauses when your child breathes

  • your child’s skin, tongue or lips are blue

  • your child is floppy and will not wake up or stay awake