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Strep A: No antibiotics shortage, just ‘huge’ surge in demand, say wholesalers

While there are sufficient stocks of amoxicillin and penicillin, wholesalers have battled with a sudden “huge spike” in demand as concerns over group A strep continue to rise, a medicines wholesaling expert has told C+D.

“The Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) believes there has been a huge spike in demand” for amoxicillin and penicillin, its executive director Martin Sawer commented.

He gave the example of a large pharmacy group, which he did not name, ordering “one normal month's worth of strep A-related antibiotic products in one day this week”.

It follows mounting cases of strep A infections in children, with pharmacies reporting difficulties in getting hold of amoxicillin in particular.

Read more: Strep A: Pharmacists warn of amoxicillin shortages as infections rocket

Mr Sawer insisted that “there is not a shortage” of antibiotics commonly used to treat invasive group A strep.

“But [the] product is not yet in the supply chain in sufficient quantities to meet the current sudden huge demand surge,” he explained.

“Wholesale distributors are working hard with their manufacturer partners to increase supply to meet this unprecedented demand,” Mr Sawer said.


HDA calls on DH for “robust communications”


Mr Sawer said HDA members would be “sending their daily stock holdings of these products to the Department of Health and Social Care (DH)”.

The association requested that the DH and NHS England (NHSE) “put out robust communications on this patient-safety issue to all stakeholders in the supply chain, as they did for Brexit”, he added.

C+D has contacted the DH and NHSE for comment.

The DH told C+D earlier this week (December 5) that it did not know of any supply issues affecting amoxicillin.

Read more: ‘Worse than ever’: Which medicines are pharmacists struggling to stock?

Meanwhile, health secretary Steve Barclay insisted that there was “good supply” of penicillin when speaking to Sky News this morning (December 7).

However, he acknowledged that some GPs could experience shortages “if they've got a lot of demand in an area”.

“We can move the stock around our depots” in such cases, he told viewers.

Speaking to Times Radio, the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies' CEO Leyla Hannbeck said that pharmacists all over the UK get notices of the medicines being out of stock whenever they try to order them online. 

"I don't know where [DH officials] get their facts from," she said. Pharmacists on the front line "simply cannot get the products". 

"If they've got plenty of it, let's see it, where is it?" she said of the DH's statement that there is sufficient stock of antibiotics to treat group A strep. 


Pharmacists still struggling to stock antibiotics


Speaking to C+D earlier this week, pharmacists recounted having to “shop around” to keep stocks of amoxicillin up.

Pharmacy manager at Heath Pharmacy, Amanda Smith, said she was “struggling to get penicillin as well”.

Meanwhile, pharmacy contractor at Tynewydd Pharmacy Gareth Hughes told C+D many patients had come in with prescriptions for 10-day penicillin courses.

Although he had been running low, he had managed to order “a lot of penicillin 125mg/5ml and 250mg/5ml in preparation”.

“The neighbouring multiple doesn’t have any,” he explained.

Mr Hughes added that “penicillin tablets are available, but above tariff price”.

Read more: 'We cannot subsidise NHS medicines bill': PSNC ramps up pressure on government

Kitsons Pharmacy in Worcester responded to a C+D tweet saying that the team could not get hold of “any antibiotic medication stock”.

“At the moment, there simply isn't anything available,” they said.

Meanwhile, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's English Pharmacy Board, Thorrun Govind, urged parents to only ask for antibiotics at a pharmacy if they had a prescription while speaking to Sky News this morning.

“We need to safeguard antibiotics for when they’re most appropriate for the individual and we need to make sure we’re looking after the supply and demand of antibiotics as patients,” she said.

Read more: The Thérèse Coffey antibiotic-sharing reports leave a bitter aftertaste

Ms Govind urged patients who do not complete their antibiotics course to return it to pharmacies “for safe disposal”, and to not share the medicine with other people.

She said her pharmacy currently had sufficient stock of antibiotics, adding that pharmacists “are well versed in dealing with stock shortages”.


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