Health

Strep A: ‘Serious shortage protocols’ issued for three penicillin medicines



T

he Government has issued “serious shortage protocols” for three penicillin treatments amid a shortage caused by a rise in cases of Strep A.

The policy change means that pharmacists will be allowed supply a “specified alternative medicine”, removing the need for the patient to return to the prescriber.

Earlier this week, Health Secretary Steve Barclay denied that there was any shortage of drugs used to treat Strep A.

An unseasonably early rise in Strep A infections among schoolchildren has increased demand for Penicillin V and amoxicillin, which are used to treat the illness.

A total of 16 children have died from invasive Group A streptococcal infection (iGAS) in recent weeks, prompting health officials to lower the prescription threshold for both drugs and driving up demand.

Minister of State for Health Will Quince said: “The increased demand for the antibiotics prescribed to treat Strep A has meant some pharmacists have been unable to supply the medicine shown on the prescription.

“These Serious Shortage Protocols will allow pharmacists to supply an alternative form of penicillin, which will make things easier for them, patients, and GPs.”

He said the Government would work with manufacturers and wholesalers to “speed up deliveries, bring forward stock they have to help ensure it gets to where it’s needed, and boost supply to meet demand as quickly as possible”.

There are nine other SSPs currently active. They have previously been used to try and improve access to Hormone Replacement Therapy drugs.

The serious protocols issued on Thursday apply to the following medicines:

– Phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution sugar free

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– Phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution

– Phenoxymethylpenicillin 125mg/5ml oral solution sugar free

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) said the changes would give pharmacies the “flexibility” to provide an alternative treatment if penicillin is not in stock.

On Wednesday, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launched a probe into the price of Strep A antibiotics following claims from pharmacists that they have been charged extortionate prices for drugs by wholesalers.

Dr Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, told the Standard that her members were reporting being charged £15 for drugs and only reimbursed £2 by the NHS – meaning they were incurring a “devastating” loss.

“All pharmacists are in dismay as to what is unfolding in front of our eyes. The financial situation for pharmacies at the moment is awful. They are making thousands of pounds of losses. And this is on top of a huge rise in energy costs.”

A CMA spokesperson said: “People have got real concerns about the price of antibiotics used to treat Strep A, and we want companies to be clear about their obligations under the law.

“There should be no doubt that it is illegal for a dominant company to charge excessive prices, or for any companies to collude to drive up prices.”

Many pharmacists have also complained of a lack of stock. Several parents with children suffering from Strep A have described the process of sourcing antibiotics from pharmacies as a “nightmare”.



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