Pharmacists have been given emergency powers to supply alternatives for three phenoxymethylpenicillin oral solutions without a change to the prescription.
The serious shortage protocols (SSPs) were issued across the UK on 15 December 2022 for phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5mL oral solution and sugar-free oral solution and phenoxymethylpenicillin 125mg/5mL sugar-free oral solution.
Under the SSPs, pharmacists are allowed to supply alternative strengths or tablets with immediate effect.
The protocols have been issued after an increase in cases of Strep A among children since the beginning of December 2022 led to increased demand for the drugs, particularly in solution.
Since the increase in cases, pharmacists have reported shortages of antibiotics and increased prices, with some saying that they have been forced to dispense prescriptions at a financial loss.
However, the Department of Health and Social Care said on 7 December 2022 that there is “no supplier shortage” of antibiotics available to treat Strep A.
SSPs are a standard procedure, used frequently to manage temporary and potential medicine supply issues. Previously, they have been issued for fluoxetine and hormone replacement therapy.
Health minister Will Quince said: “The increased demand for the antibiotics prescribed to treat Strep A has meant some pharmacists have been unable to supply the medicine shown on the prescription.
“These SSPs will allow pharmacists to supply an alternative form of penicillin, which will make things easier for them, patients, and GPs.
“We are taking decisive action to address these temporary issues and improve access to these medicines by continuing to work with manufacturers and wholesalers to speed up deliveries, bring forward stock they have to help ensure it gets to where it’s needed, and boost supply to meet demand as quickly as possible.”
Leyla Hannbeck, chief executive of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies, said it was “a step in the right direction.”
She added: “The question is, why leave it so late to do it? It would have saved a lot of hassle.
“For those on the front line, the thing that really matters to us is when we actually get the supplies coming through, but this is definitely a step in the right direction, allowing pharmacists to change things rather than having it sent to the doctors causing more of a hassle for the patient.
“There’s got to be better planning, this is not the first time this has happened – we had the HRT issues earlier this year – and we’ve had quite a few issues around medicine supply concerns.”