Strep A warning: Ministers issue rare 'Serious Shortage Protocol' for THREE penicillin medicines

Cases of Strep A are surging among children in the UK.
Cases of Strep A are surging among children in the UK.

Pharmacists are set to be given powers to supply alternative treatment after 16 children were confirmed to have died with the illness since September

Published

A Strep A medicine shortage alert has been issued by the Government as cases surge among young children.

Pharmacists are set to be given powers to supply alternative treatment after 16 children were confirmed to have died with the illness since September.

Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) were issued for three penicillin medicines as the Government looks to tackle the shortage.

Pharmacists will now have the flexibility to supply an alternative form of medicine if the specific one patients want is not in stock.

This means patients will not have to return to their GP to get a new prescription instead.

SSPs are used frequently to manage medicine supply issues.

Nine other SSPs are currently active, including for HRT medicine which some women use for menopause symptoms.

Guidance has been issued to pharmacists on what antibiotics can be used if first line treatment is not available.

PHS received reports of six new cases of the more serious Invasive Group A Streptococcal infections (iGAS) between December 5 and 11 across all age groups in Scotland, with no new reports in children under 10 since last week’s report.

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions on Thursday, Nicola Sturgeon said “nobody is burying their heads in the sand” on the antibiotic supply issue.

SSPs are used to manage medicine supply issues.
SSPs are used to manage medicine supply issues.

She was responding to a question from Scottish Conservative MSP Rachael Hamilton, who said doctors in her constituency in the south of Scotland have described the situation as “horrendous”.

Ms Sturgeon said powers over the supply of medicine are reserved to Westminster.

She continued: “We are of course aware of some localised supply problems with penicillin and amoxicillin liquid preparations due to the increase in demand across the whole of the UK.

“These types of demand shortages are not uncommon, the NHS has robust systems in place to deal with them.

“The assessment right now is that there is sufficient supply within the UK to meet these needs.”

Strep A bacteria are commonly found in the throat and on the skin, and some people have no symptoms.

Infections caused by Strep A include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause iGAS, a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria has invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.

There have been no deaths in Scotland, however 16 children elsewhere in the UK have now died from invasive Strep A infection.

Dr Nick Phin, director of public health science at PHS, said: “Public Health Scotland continues to monitor infections caused by Group A Strep (GAS), which have been increasing since the beginning of October.

“Whilst GAS infections, including scarlet fever and tonsillitis, are common; the more serious Invasive GAS infections are very rare.

“The bacteria causing GAS infections is usually found in the throat and on the skin. We would, therefore, encourage adults to ensure children wash their hands frequently with soap and water, and to cover their mouth and nose with a tissue when they cough or sneeze and then put the used tissue in the bin.

“These simple actions can help to reduce the spread of common infections like Group A Strep.”

The supply alert notice advises pharmacists to order antibiotic stocks in line with patient demand and avoid ordering excessive quantities.

It also asks them to note that, where possible, tablet and/or capsules should be prescribed to preserve stocks of liquid preparations.