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Strep A: Pharmacies snowed under with calls from parents ‘in a frenzy’

Pharmacists have raised concerns about throngs of distressed parents calling up “in a frenzy” looking for antibiotics to treat strep A, as well as having to pay “outrageous” prices for drugs.

Pharmacists told C+D that they are being inundated with phone calls from worried parents. 

Nahim Khan, a community pharmacist based in Warrington, said that media hysteria has left parents “in a frenzy”.

He told C+D: “I’m getting a lot of parents worried about their children. When something’s really heightened in the media, anything the child presents with is considered as: ‘Could it be strep A?’

“I do feel really sad for parents who are chasing this antibiotic and driving around and it’s making them even more in a frenzy.” 

Read more: DH bans wholesalers from exporting or ‘hoarding’ strep A antibiotics

One pharmacist, who wished to remain anonymous, said they had faced calls from parents “crying down the phone” because antibiotics could not be guaranteed.

They told C+D: “I have had many phone calls from parents worried about both strep A and being able to source antibiotics. 

“[And] I have had parents of cystic fibrosis patients who are at much higher risk of infections crying down the phone because I can’t guarantee them antibiotics.”

They said that things have become “so bad” that they have written to their MP, after they made up 11 bottles of antibiotics for children on Friday morning, compared with “at most two a day” normally.

After having no liquid antibiotics all week, they told their local GP surgery that they are “probably going to have to default to tablet/capsule prescriptions”.

 

Social media causing anxiety

 

South Shields locum pharmacist Lyndsey English said social media has been “causing people to worry” and ring up looking for swab tests, too, with her pharmacy having “a lot of people come in last week worried”. 

And superintendent pharmacist director at Tollesbury Pharmacy in Essex, Dimple Bhatia, added that requests “have increased threefold”.

His pharmacy has seen “lots of phone calls from worried parents” who “have been told to hunt around for the antibiotics for their child’s prescription by other pharmacies”, he said. 

“One parent tried six pharmacies before they came to us. We are dispensing prescriptions from well over 10 miles away,” he said, adding that prices for the drugs have reached “outrageous” heights.

“Where there is limited stock, the prices are outrageous,” he told C+D on Friday (December 9). At the end of last week, one wholesaler was quoting upwards of £19 for an amoxicillin suspension that usually costs around £1, he claimed.

He added: “I think within two days our stocks will be finished.”

Read more: Strep A and scarlet fever: What pharmacists should know and advise

Delim Ogul, responsible pharmacist at Clockwork Pharmacy in London, also said he had seen prices increase “tenfold” overnight. 

“Penicillin and amoxicillin prices last Friday were over the one pound [mark] and overnight all the prices increased over tenfold,” he said. 

Raj Matharu, chief officer at Bexley, Bromley and Greenwich Local Pharmaceutical Committee, said his pharmacy has dispensed “about a month’s worth of goods in a week” and that the entire supply chain “has almost crept to a halt”.

Community pharmacies are being put in “uncomfortable positions” to distribute medicines they are not sure they will be reimbursed for, he added.

And Gurinder Singh, community pharmacist at Boots Wiltshire and lecturer in pharmacy practice at the University of Reading, said requests for antibiotics “are coming in thick and fast” with "parents who can't be seen in their GP surgeries coming in for advice". 

“At a time when pharmacies are stretched, a lot of time is being spent looking for alternatives and putting parents at ease,” he said.

But he added that it “has brought the profession together”, with 10 local pharmacies sharing information on “which stock we have” with pharmacy colleagues working in GP practices.

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

Last week, C+D reported a “huge” surge in demand for group A strep medicines amoxicillin and penicillin. Meanwhile, wholesalers have battled with a sudden “huge spike” in demand. 


C+D also reported that pharmacists have been left out of pocket after price hikes linked to antibiotics used to treat group A strep.


Earlier this month, the Association of Independent Multiple pharmacies (AIMp) warned that pharmacies are “running out of amoxicillin”.

 

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