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Antibiotic shortages easing after ‘incredible’ demand, wholesalers confirm

Antibiotic shortages that had hit pharmacies amid higher-than-normal cases of strep A and scarlet fever are starting to improve, C+D has learned.

In an exclusive interview, the executive director of the Healthcare Distribution Association (HDA) said increased supplies from manufacturers plus a levelling off of demand in the past week meant the situation was looking better.

Pharmacies had reported supply problems throughout December, as well as being inundated with calls from worried parents after media stories about rising cases of Strep A.

Read more: DH issues five further serious shortage protocols for penicillin  

But HDA executive director Martin Sawer told C+D last week (January 18) that the supply issue was now beginning to resolve as more stocks came through and fewer patients needed antibiotics, allowing maintenance of supplies.

“From our perspective as wholesale distributors, we're getting more supplies in from the manufacturers and the demand has levelled off this week, so it's looking a bit better,” he said.


“It went haywire”


But he added that wholesalers had been faced with huge levels of demand for at least a month.

“It went haywire because the thresholds for prescribing were lowered, so doctors were able to issue prescriptions almost prophylactically,” he told C+D.

Mr Sawer added that wholesalers “managed to distribute as many by numbers of packs of antibiotics in the first five days of December 2022 as we did in the whole of December 2021”.

“Demand was incredible,” he said.

It comes as the latest figures from the UK Health Security Agency show that the number of scarlet fever infections remains high but notifications have been falling in the past couple of weeks.

Throughout December, hundreds of pharmacy contractors had contacted the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) with concerns about increased prices for antibiotics.

Read more: Strep A: Watchdog investigating ‘excessive’ antibiotics prices

But medicines price rises were went far beyond antibiotics, PSNC warned after the government granted a record 198 price concessions for medicines last month.

Mr Sawer told C+D last month that the prices wholesalers charge pharmacies for antibiotics “directly reflect the increase in prices” they have to pay manufacturers.

In December, wholesalers were banned from exporting or hoarding some antibiotics used to treat strep A and eight serious shortage protocols were put in place allowing pharmacists to supply alternative penicillin medicines.

Meanwhile, at the start of this year, community pharmacies also warned of difficulties getting hold of common cold and flu medications after higher-than-usual demand.

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