Health Secretary Steve Barclay has said there is a “good supply” of penicillin after a senior pharmacist warned “there’s no drugs”.
Pharmacy director Zeshan Rehmani criticised the Department of Health for being “out of touch” after it mooted proposals to give antibiotics to children in schools to help fend off illnesses including Strep A – saying: “There’s no drugs. Today, we haven’t been able to get any penicillin in stock at all.”
But Health Secretary Steve Barclay told Sky News this morning he has been reassured by medical suppliers that there is a “good supply” of penicillin, though he admitted some GPs may have shortages while stock is moved around.
“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.
“As of last night, when we checked (with suppliers), they said they could reassure us that they’ve got good stock and were moving that around to meet demand.”
It comes amid concerns some parents have been resorting to using old or out-of-date antibiotics they have found at home to treat their children.
That led to Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, cautioning against self-diagnosis and urging parents to talk to their GP instead.
She has warned leftover antibiotics must be returned to pharmacies as there is a risk that children could be given an incorrect dose.
Nine children in the UK are known to have died in a recent outbreak of a form of Strep A, an infection that is usually mild and treated easily with the antibiotic amoxicillin.
But an invasive form of the bacteria known as iGAS has increased this year – particularly in those under the age of 10.
The National Pharmacy Association confirmed there had been a spike in demand for some antibiotics, including those used to treat Strep A infection in children.
A statement said: “Pharmacies are having to work very hard to obtain stocks of these antibiotics, and some lines are temporarily unavailable.
“We have been advised by wholesalers that most lines will be replenished soon, but we cannot say exactly when that will be.
“As always, pharmacists will continue to work with local GPs to help people get the medicines they need as promptly as possible, which may require a change of prescription.”
Mr Rehmani, whose pharmacy is in Manchester, told Sky News’ Inzamam Rashid: “When we hear stories about possibly giving antibiotics to children in schools, it just shows how out of touch the Department of Health is with on-the-ground pharmacy.”
He added: “Pharmacists across the country are thinking we haven’t got enough penicillin to fill our prescriptions, let alone handing it out to schools.”
Health minister Maria Caulfield said a cross-party briefing had been held for MPs on Strep A, and she denied there was a shortage of antibiotics.
She said: “We want to reassure parents if their children do have symptoms, and they are concerned to seek help – GPs are ready, A&E departments are ready, and also we have directors of public health proactively going into schools where there are cases.
“There is no shortage of antibiotics we want to reassure people on that, and we’re keeping an eye on that on a daily basis.”
Dr Colin Brown, UKHSA deputy director, told Sky News there was “long-standing guidance” that enables health protection teams to assess the situation in schools and nurseries to consider antibiotic prophylaxis for “either a group of children in certain classes or an entire nursery school”.
Following the death of at least nine children across the UK, Dr Brown reiterated there was no evidence to suggest there had been a change to the circulating strains of Strep A to make them more severe.
He suggested it was a lack of mixing due to the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to the susceptibility in children that was “bringing forward the normal scarlet fever season” to this side of Christmas.