3 more children have died of Strep A, it has emerged, and UK pharmacists have been told they can offer alternative antibiotics to those first prescribed to ease penicillin shortages.
According to the UK Health Agency (UHSA), at least 19 children have died in the UK and 7,750 have been infected with scarlet fever so far this season. That’s more than triple the 2,538 at the same point in the last peak season in 2017-18.
However, the increase in notifications came at a different point that year. In 2017 to 2018, there were a total of 30,768 scarlet fever notifications.
The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) has issued Severe Shortage Protocols (SSPs) for three penicillin medicines due to increasing demand for antibiotics.
Pharmacists and GPs in the UK are having trouble finding penicillin and amoxicillin, antibiotics used to treat infections including strep A. As a result, parents said they had to visit multiple pharmacies to get prescription drugs for their sick children. The price of some antibiotics has skyrocketed – a situation pharmacists say has led to losses.
Health Secretary Steve Barclay said there was no shortage of antibiotics in the past and stocks could be moved if areas had problems with supply.
However, on Monday the DHSC, which oversees Barclays, issued a supply warning for certain antibiotics used to treat infections such as strep A.
On Wednesday, Professor Susan Hopkins, UKHSA’s chief medical adviser, told a webinar organized by the Royal Society of Medicine that there had been a significant increase in demand for some antibiotics.
“I was told in the last few days that there is five times more penicillin than we used three weeks ago,” she said. ” It does not affect patients.
The Competition and Markets Authority announced on Wednesday that the cost of antibiotics will continue to rise.
SSPs eliminate the need for a patient to return to the doctor for a new prescription if a particular drug is not available. Instead, pharmacists can legally prescribe a specific alternative.
That is expected to save time for GP practices and make it easier for patients to get the medicines they need.
The new SSPs, which are active until January 31, apply to three medicines: phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution sugar-free, phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution and phenoxymethylpenicillin 125mg/5ml oral solution sugar-free.
According to the DHSC, there are nine other SSPs currently in operation, many of which are hormone replacement therapy drugs.
Health Minister Will Queens said: “The increase in demand for antibiotics prescribed to treat Strep N has meant that some pharmacists are unable to supply the medicine shown on the prescription.
“These acute shortage protocols allow pharmacists to supply an alternative form of penicillin, making it easier for them, patients and GPs.
“To address these temporary issues and improve drug availability, we are taking critical steps in working with manufacturers and wholesalers to expedite delivery, promote stock and increase availability to help ensure delivery. Please inquire as soon as possible.”
Speaking on Wednesday, Hopkins added that there was a “deep dive” going on in those who were most sick with Strep A.
“For example, we know that about one-third of infected cases have another respiratory virus detected at the same time,” she said, explaining that perhaps co-infection makes the bacteria more likely to travel to the lungs. And they cause serious problems. But she added, “This is speculation at this point.”