Strep A: ‘Patchy’ penicillin supply as demand for antibiotics rises

Pharmacists have said they are struggling to get penicillin, a first line drug used to treat Strep A, saying supply has been “patchy”.

At least nine children have died across the UK in recent weeks after contracting the bacterial infection, which usually only causes mild illness but can, in rare cases, develop into an invasive disease can prove fatal.

Pharmacists have reported issues getting liquid penicillin, with two different industry bodies raising concerns over the drug’s supply.

But the UK government has insisted it has enough antibiotics to tackle the outbreak of Strep A - which can be treated with others aside from penicillin.

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Nick Kaye from the National Pharmacy Association said there had been some “blips in the supply chain” around the liquid form of the firstline penicillin antibiotic.

“There are second line and other antibiotics that can be used. The blip in supply chain shouldn’t get people not to attend their GP or pharmacist if they think something is problematic,” he told Sky News on Tuesday evening.

When asked about penicillin on Wednesday, the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies’ chief executive said: “There is patchy supply and we have been checking regularly.”

Tributes have been paid to Stella-Lily McCorkindale who died after a Strep A infection (Go Fund Me)
Tributes have been paid to Stella-Lily McCorkindale who died after a Strep A infection (Go Fund Me)

“And when you go online to order these medicines, particularly the liquid ones for children, you get these red marks basically saying that the product is out of stock. and this is happening all over the country.”

“Sometimes the stock becomes available and you order it. But as soon as you order it, it goes out and you can’t order any more.”

Dr Leyla Hannbeck told Times Radio: “We know that demand is high and we have raised this with the Department for Health.”

She added: “We on the frontline are seeing this and reporting this. We simply cannot get the products. It’s patchy.”

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Meanwhile the UK’s health secretary insisted there was no issue with the supply of antibiotics from manufacturers on Wednesday.

Steve Barclay told Sky News: “I checked with the team last night - we have an established team in the department that does this on a permanent basis - and they reassured me we have good supply. The medical suppliers are required to notify us if they’ve got shortages

“Now, sometimes, GPs can have particular surges if they’ve got a lot of demand in an area, and that’s quite routine, we can move the stock around our depots.”

Mr Barclay also told GB News his department had not been informed of any supply shortages from manufacturers.

“Clearly we keep this under constant review. We have a team within the department that is always looking at medical supplies and these issues,” he said.

At least nine children have died in the UK following a Strep A infection in recent weeks, including seven-year-old Hanna Roap from Wales, four-year-old Muhammad Ibrahim Ali from Buckinghamshire and Belfast primary school pupil Stella-Lilly McCorkindale.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali and Hannah Roap both died after contracting Strep A (Family handout)
Muhammad Ibrahim Ali and Hannah Roap both died after contracting Strep A (Family handout)

The bacteria usually only causes mild infection, including a sore throat or scarlet fever, which can be treated with antibiotics.

However, in rare cases, it can lead to a potentially life-threatening invasive disease, of which there has been a higher number of cases than usual reported for this time of year.

Early signs and symptoms of the invasive Group Strep A disease include a high fever, severe muscle aches, pain in one area of the body, redness at the site of a wound and vomiting or diarrhoea.