Local chemists struggle to get hold of antibiotics for Strep A

Image above: Liquid Amoxicillin

Pharmacies unable to order from wholesalers

Pharmacies in Chiswick are finding they are unable to order the antibiotics used to treat the invasive Strep A infection. So far 15 children have died from the infection in recent weeks, including one child in Ealing.

There have been reports of shortages in the national press, though the Government has denied it, so we rang local pharmacies and talked to pharmacists in Chiswick and Brentford.

All the pharmacies we spoke to on Monday  (12 December) reported shortages of either liquid amoxicillin or phenoxymethylpenicillin (penicillin), which are primarily used to treat young children.

Sabel Pharmacy, Lloyds Pharmacy, Campbell’s Chemist, Pestle and Mortar, Bedford Park Pharmacy, Alicare Solutions and Morrisons Pharmacy in Brentford all told us they were having difficulty getting hold of any.

Only Alicare Solutions said they had an ample supply of liquid amoxicillin, which they had ordered prior to the Strep A outbreak. Lloyds Pharmacy said they had around ten bottles of amoxicillin 125ml, but had no 250ml or penicillin in either measurement.

Like the other pharmacies, both said they had not been able to order more from wholesalers, who are waiting on deliveries from the manufacturer.

The Health Secretary Steve Barclay said last week there is a “good supply” of penicillin nationally, which has angered various local pharmacy workers who say he is lying. One pharmacy manager said the Government is ignoring the problem and hoping it goes away, as infections continue to rise and supply-chain issues remain unresolved.

Image above: Sabel Pharmacy’s manager Rachel Patel, Sabel Pharmacy at 446 Chiswick High Road, 

Supply issues have been “horrific” – Sabel Pharmacy

Rachel Patel, Manager of Sabel Pharmacy, told The Chiswick Calendar:

“I think all of the pharmacies in Chiswick as far as I’m aware have experienced shortages of the liquid antibiotics…. Some of the [Doctors’] surgeries have asked what everyone’s got, to try and prescribe what’s available. Otherwise, there’s been some guidance about using tablets and crushing them and how to do that in an emergency situation basically – but the GP would have to prescribe the tablets.

“They’d do the prescription and then we can give them the tablets which are a little bit more readily available, but the liquid version is quite difficult to source.”

Rachel said on Monday morning the wholesaler website still did not allow for any new orders of the liquid antibiotic. She condemned the Health Secretary’s claim there was a good supply of antibiotics as unhelpful at best.

“It’s not good. It doesn’t really help. If they’re not going to say what the actual situation is it doesn’t help because then people get angry with you because they don’t believe you, they don’t understand. It would actually be more helpful to say, ‘okay, there isn’t any so what are we going to do to solve this problem?'”

“We get deliveries twice a day, normally the wholesalers are quite quick at getting it out to people. The supply from the manufacturers to the wholesalers though, that still hasn’t materialised. [The Government] need to communicate better really and listen to people who are actually doing the job.”

“I think they’re hoping, a bit like everything, it will go away. People won’t realise and nothing too bad will happen and people will forget that they’ve not said the truth. I think they probably know, if they don’t know then he’s stupid [Steve Barclay]… There’s been supply issues with so many meds, it’s been horrific, I’ve never known it so bad and I just don’t think they want to admit there’s a problem.”

Image above: Brentford Morrisons pharmacy dispenser Jude Bostock, Brentford Morrisons Pharmacy

Health Secretary “completely out of touch” – Morrisons’ Pharmacy, Brentford

Morrisons’ Pharmacy in Brentford is seeing wholesale shortages in amoxicillin, penicillin and clarithomycin – an alternative antibiotic largely used among patients who are allergic to penicillin. Jude Bostock, a dispenser at the pharmacy drew attention to the shortages on social media last week. He told The Chiswick Calendar:

“If someone comes in with a prescription for antibiotics liquid that we don’t have, generally we send them away and say try elsewhere or phone the surgery to prescribe an alternative. This happens all day every day, which is also having an effect on people with other illnesses such as sickle cell, which can require they take phenoxymethylpenicillin daily for life.”

The wholesaler, Alliance Healthcare UK, have been out of stock of the three antibiotics for well over a week and are supposed to provide a weekly bulletin when stock items are unavailable. But, Jude said, the bulletins haven’t been updated since November and most items are labelled vaguely with ‘supply issue’ or ‘no availability date’.

“There were shortages before Brexit,” he said, “but they’re much much worse now.”

He added that a lot of antibiotic prescriptions tend to come from people panicking about “minor sore throats” who had been prescribed antibiotics, impacting supply further. “The people who really need them, like Strep patients, people taking them for prophylaxis, are in real danger… Patients and parents are very concerned.”

Asked about the Health Secretary’s supply comments, Jude said:

“It is definitely frustrating as a pharmacy employee that the Government outright lies about drug availability. The Health Secretary is completely out of touch and doesn’t have any medical knowledge to understand in any detail the implications of low drug availability.”

Image above: Bedford Park Pharmacy

“Long list” of medications not available – Bedford Park Pharmacy

The manager of Bedford Park Pharmacy, Sheima said she has been unable to order new stock for almost two weeks and they are running low on other basic pain relief medications as well.

“We don’t have any [liquid antibiotics] as well. I only have one bottle of amoxicillin 125ml and one bottle of phenoxymethylpenicillin 250ml and we’re unable to get them any more.

“Since we are a prescribing centre, I’m a prescriber myself, I could offer to do the checking for them and choose another antibiotic if they would like to.”

Asked about the “good supply” comments by Steve Barclay, Sheima said:

“Let him get some for us if that’s the case. There’s no supply of anything, even Nytol’s not there, even Lemsip is not there, even Strepsils are not there! Hundreds of medicines are not there, not only this one. If you come along, I’ll give you a long list of things that are not obtainable.”

Image above: group A streptococcus bacteria

What is invasive Strep A?

Strep A can cause something called invasive group A streptococcal infection or iGAS, which can be deadly. These infections are caused by the bacteria getting into parts of the body where it is not normally found, such as the lungs or bloodstream, according to the UK Health Security Agency.

iGAS is spread by close contact with an infected person and can be passed on through coughs and sneezes or from a wound.

Warning signs of invasive disease include: fever (a high temperature above 38C) and severe muscle aches.

The UK Health Security Agency advises:

“Anyone with high fever, severe muscle aches, pain in one area of the body and unexplained vomiting or diarrhoea should call NHS 111 and seek medical help immediately.”

Since Strep A is a bacterial infection, it can be treated with antibiotics.

UK Health Security Agency information about Strep A

Very young children battling bacterial infections are usually prescribed a dissolved form of these antibiotics due to the potential choking hazard of giving them the pills or capsules used by adult.

The shortage is so acute nationally that GPs are being advised to prescribe solid tablets (to be crushed or dissolved) if they cannot provide the liquid form.

Read more stories on The Chiswick Calendar

See also: Transport chaos after overnight snowfall

See also: Cheese Market donates £5,000 to The Upper Room

See all the latest stories: Chiswick Calendar News & Features

Support The Chiswick Calendar

The Chiswick Calendar CIC is a community resource. Please support us by buying us the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee (or more, if you insist). Click here to support us.

We publish a weekly newsletter and update the website with local news and information daily. We are editorially independent.

To subscribe to the weekly newsletter, go here.