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Wholesalers blame manufacturers after concerns over antibiotic price hikes

Wholesalers have put soaring antibiotic prices at manufacturers' doors, following pharmacists' complaints that they have been left out of pocket amid growing concerns over group A strep. 

Pharmacists started raising concerns that prices for common antibiotics were rising last week, with reports in the Sunday Times that some wholesalers were charging upwards of £15 for antibiotic capsules.

However, wholesalers have hit back at accusations that they are profiteering from the situation.

Prices from wholesalers represented by the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) “directly reflect the increase in prices” they are having to pay manufacturers, the membership body's executive director Martin Sawer said today (December 12).

Speaking on behalf of HDA members – which include Phoenix, AAH, Sigma Pharmaceuticals and Alliance Healthcare – “this will be the case until supply and demand are more in sync,” he told C+D. 

Currently, demand for amoxicillin and penicillin is outstripping the supply of “competitive products being made available to buy from the manufacturers”, he said.

“These particular products have been in low demand for some years now, as the threshold to prescribe was raised to help combat antimicrobial resistance (AMR) issues,” he added.

It follows warnings of a “temporary supply interruption” of some antibiotics used to treat strep A infections after reports that the number of cases grew significantly last week.

Meanwhile, Sigma Pharmaceuticals apologised last week (December 8) for "pricing glitches" that led to incorrect prices for certain products being shown on its website. It has updated the "incorrect" pricing and no customers were charged the higher prices, it said.

C+D has contacted Sigma for further comment. 



Supply issues


Pharmacists began raising concerns over difficulties sourcing antibiotics last week, with problems still being reported today (December 12).

Meanwhile, the Department of Health and Social Care (DH) reiterated that “there is no supplier shortage” of antibiotics used to treat strep A infections.

“We sometimes have surges for products and increased demand means some pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining certain antibiotics,” a spokesperson told C+D.

“We rely on competition to drive down the prices of generic medicines which generally results in lower prices for the NHS – this means prices can fluctuate, but no company should use this as an opportunity to exploit the NHS,” it warned.

Read more: Strep A: David Webb warns pharmacies may face ‘temporary supply interruption’

The Competition and Markets Authority can take action against those found to have engaged in “anti-competitive conduct”, it noted.

The DH is working with wholesalers and manufacturers to explore what can be done to expedite deliveries and bring forward stock, to meet demand as quickly as possible, C+D understands.

It is also exploring possible tools to ensure stock is available for patients who require antibiotic treatment for strep A.

According to the latest data recorded by the UK Health Security Agency, as of November 20, a total of 851 strep A cases had been recorded.

This compares with an average of 186 during the same period in recent years.


“Helpless against market forces”


Drug shortages have been a growing concern, with more than 100 concession prices being agreed in some months of this year.

The Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) confirmed to C+D today that it had seen prices of these medicines spike over the last week.

PSNC chief executive Janet Morrison told C+D that pharmacy teams are “helpless against market forces that are working against them”.

Read more: Strep A: Children can take oral solid form antibiotics amid demand surge

They “urgently need government assurance that all medicines will be available, and not at wildly inflated prices”, she urged.

Over the next month, PSNC also expects “to see more medicines than ever” on the price concessions list, she noted. 

“For months on end pharmacies have been footing the bill for NHS medicines themselves when these should be covered by government.

“This can’t continue – pharmacies are woefully underfunded and simply cannot afford to pay for the NHS drugs bill as well,” she added.

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