Cases of Strep A infection are currently on the rise in the UK, with reports of a shortage of antibiotics used to treat the infection. But is there an antibiotics shortage and what has the Health Secretary said? Here’s what you need to know.
Is there an antibiotics shortage?
Strep A, which refers to Group A Streptococcus (GAS), is the name given to a type of bacteria sometimes found in the throat or on the skin. It usually causes mild illnesses such as a sore throat, but can cause other infections such as pneumonia and scarlet fever.
Abbas Kanani, a pharmacist at Chemist Click online pharmacy, said: “Strep A can cause scarlet fever, both of which can be treated with antibiotics.”
He said Step A is treated with penicillin, but added: “There is a shortage in the UK, and it is either out of stock with wholesalers, or above the tariff price, which means that it costs pharmacies more than what the NHS will pay them for it.”
A GP will prescribe antibiotics, which will:
- help you get better quicker
- reduce the chance of a serious illnesses, such as pneumonia
- make it less likely that you’ll pass the infection on to someone else
Pharmacists have said they are struggling to get penicillin, an antibiotic used to treat Strep A, saying supply has been “patchy”, but Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said there is no issue with the supply of antibiotics from manufacturers. However, he admitted some GPs may have shortages while stock is moved around.
Nine children in the UK have died after infection with Strep A in recent weeks.
Steve Barclay said checks within the Department of Health had not revealed an issue with supply of the medicines after the National Pharmacy Association said there were “blips” in the supply chain of liquid penicillin, which is often given to children.
The National Pharmacy Association confirmed there had been a spike in demand for some antibiotics, including those used to treat Strep A infection in children.
A statement said: "Pharmacies are having to work very hard to obtain stocks of these antibiotics, and some lines are temporarily unavailable. We have been advised by wholesalers that most lines will be replenished soon, but we cannot say exactly when that will be. As always, pharmacists will continue to work with local GPs to help people get the medicines they need as promptly as possible, which may require a change of prescription."
Barclay said the level of supply was “not a concern at the moment” but stock could be moved around if there was an issue with particular GPs getting supplies. He told GB News: “We’re in very close contact with our medical suppliers. “They’re under a duty to notify us if there are supply shortages. They have not done so as yet.”
He also told Sky News: “I checked with the team last night - we have an established team in the department that does this on a permanent basis - and they reassured me we have good supply.
“The medical suppliers are required to notify us if they’ve got shortages. Now, sometimes GPs can have particular surges if they’ve got a lot of demand in an area, and that’s quite routine…we can move the stock around our depots.
“As of last night when we checked (with suppliers), they said they could reassure us that they’ve got good stock and were moving that around to meet demand.
It’s not yet clear the areas where particular surges in antibiotic demand may be taking place, but Barclay told Times Radio that sometimes stock needs to be moved around and that this is “part of normal practice”. He added: “We do that on a regular basis.”
“Obviously parents are concerned at the moment because they see the stories. One in five children have this - Strep A - naturally, and complications are very rare, but it’s important that we’re vigilant,” Barclay said.
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 throats or scarlet fever that can be easily treated with antibiotics.
“However, it is important that parents are on the lookout for symptoms and see a doctor as quickly as possible so that their child can be treated. Make sure you talk to a health professional if your child is showing signs of deteriorating after a bout of scarlet fever, a sore throat, or a respiratory infection.”