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Availability of antibiotics should improve soon, say wholesalers

by Rachel Carter
12 December 2022

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Pharmacy wholesalers have said the availability of antibiotics should improve soon as more stock is being delivered ‘on a daily basis’.

GPs and pharmacists have reported being unable to source antibiotics including amoxicillin and penicillin this week, following a recent increase in group A streptococcal cases.

It was reported on a spreadsheet circulated to GPs in early afternoon Thursday, showing that the three main national pharmacy wholesalers – Phoenix, Alliance and AAH – currently have no stock of amoxicillin 250mg/5ml suspension or both 125mg/5ml or 250mg/5ml Penicillin V suspension.

An updated spreadsheet showing the situation at 6pm on Thursday revealed that more were out of stock, including amoxicillin 250mg capsules, both amoxicillin 125mg/5ml and 250mg/5ml SF suspension, Penicillin V 125mg/5ml and 250mg/5ml SF suspension, and clarithromycin 250mg tablets.

But the Government has maintained that there are no shortages of the medicines.

Executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) Martin Sawer said that there was no shortage of the medicines in the UK ‘per se’, but the issue is that ‘some stock has not yet been delivered to wholesalers to distribute’.

He said: ‘Stock is being delivered on a daily basis so [the] situation should get better soon.’

In a separate statement issued earlier this week, the HDA chief said that ‘packs are not currently in the supply chain in sufficient quantities to meet the current sudden huge demand surge’ and orders originally placed with manufacturers for January 2023 are ‘being delivered in the next few days’.

He added: ‘HDA requests that NHSE/DHSC puts out robust communications, as occurred before Brexit requesting all players to not over-prescribe, hoard or stockpile, on this critical patient-safety issue.’

Mr Sawer also questioned why the ‘whole medicines supply chain’ was ‘not communicated with in advance of the lowering of doctors’ prescription thresholds for antibiotics’.

Last Monday, it was reported that GPs had been advised to have a ‘low threshold’ for prescribing antibiotics to children presenting with symptoms associated with strep A.

In an urgent letter to GPs, the UK Health Security Agency said: ‘Given the unusually high level of GAS (group A strep) and viral co-circulation in the community, health care professionals are asked to have a low threshold to consider and empirically prescribe antibiotics to children presenting with features of GAS infection, including where secondary to viral respiratory illness.’

It also said GPs should maintain a low threshold for onward referral to secondary care for any children presenting with ‘persistent or worsening symptoms’.

GPs have since seen an increase in worried parents presenting with their children, with doctors describing the situation as ‘relentless’.

The BMA has urged NHS England to bring in urgent additional capacity to NHS 111 call handling services to prevent GP services from getting too overwhelmed.

A spokesperson for The Royal Pharmaceutical Society said: ‘The situation around rising cases of strep A and obtaining antibiotics has been challenging for patients, parents and carers, pharmacists and all those in our health system working to help patients.

‘We are in contact with the NHS and governments across Great Britain and doing all we can to support you to help patients. The situation is under constant review and the aim of everyone is to ensure patients get access to the medicines they need.’

A version of this story first appeared on our sister title Pulse.