Steve Barclay insists there is NO drug shortage amid Strep A outbreak

Rishi Sunak and Steve Barclay insist there is NO shortage of antibiotics amid Strep A outbreak – despite pharmacies admitting they’re having to TURN AWAY patients due to lack of penicillin

  • No drug suppliers have reported antibiotic shortage, Health Secretary said
  • Stocks of the drugs used to treat Strep A are being kept under ‘constant review’ 
  • But pharmacy bosses and parents have said that there are ‘no drugs’ available
  • Read: Father took daughter to hospital three times in days before Strep A death

Britain is not running low on antibiotics, the Government insisted today as fears grow over the ongoing Strep A outbreak which has killed nine children so far.

Steve Barclay claimed he is in ‘close contact’ with suppliers and none have informed him that stocks of the key drugs — given to kids with the illness or generic symptoms potentially triggered by the bug — are low, something they are duty-bound to do. 

Mr Barclay added that ‘we have good supply’ but the country’s medicine stocks are being kept under ‘constant review’.

Meanwhile, Rishi Sunak told MPs: ‘There are no current shortages of drugs available to treat this and there are well-established procedures in place to ensure that that remains the case.’

It comes as pharmacy bosses have warned there are ‘no drugs’ available, with blips in the supply chain expected to rumble on until into 2023. Parents scrambling to find drugs have even been turned away from chemists due to a lack of supplies.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said parents should seek help if they think their child is affected. He said: ‘We are seeing a higher number of cases from Strep A this year compared to usual’

Steve Barclay said he is in ‘close contact’ with suppliers and none have informed him that there are too few antibiotics — something they are duty-bound to do

Phenoxymethylpenicillin (pictured), amoxicillin and clarithromycin are three key antibiotics used to treat Strep A, with the drugs given through an IV drip in severe cases

A mother has told of her difficulties accessing antibiotics for her daughter after she was diagnosed with Strep A and prescribed antibiotics. Victoria Hoult, 38, (right) said she spent eight hours with her nine-year-old daughter Ella (left) at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, after she had been unwell for a week

What is Strep A?

Group A Streptococcus (Group A Strep or Strep A) bacteria can cause many different infections.

The bacteria are commonly found in the throat and on the skin, and some people have no symptoms.

Infections caused by Strep A range from minor illnesses to serious and deadly diseases.

They include the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause an illness called invasive Group A Streptococcal disease.

What is invasive Group A Streptococcal disease?

Invasive Group A Strep disease is sometimes a life-threatening infection in which the bacteria have invaded parts of the body, such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.

Two of the most severe, but rare, forms of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

Necrotising fasciitis is also known as the ‘flesh-eating disease’ and can occur if a wound gets infected.

Streptococcal toxic shock syndrome is a rapidly progressing infection causing low blood pressure/shock and damage to organs such as the kidneys, liver and lungs.

This type of toxic shock has a high death rate.

READ MAILONLINE’S FULL Q&A ON STREP A. 

Discussing the ongoing outbreak on GB News, Mr Barclay said: ‘We’re in very close contact with our medical suppliers.

‘They’re under a duty to notify us if there are supply shortages. They have not done so as yet.

‘Clearly we keep this under constant review. We have a team within the department that is always looking at medical supplies and these issues.’

Phenoxymethylpenicillin, amoxicillin and clarithromycin are three antibiotics used to treat Strep A, with the drugs given through an IV drip in severe cases.

The UK Health Security Agency told doctors to have a ‘low threshold’ for prescribing antibiotics to youngsters who have suspected Strep A. 

It also advised GPs to ‘maintain a low threshold for prompt referral’ to hospital of any children with persistent or worsening symptoms. 

The drugs are used to treat the myriad of infections that Strep A bacteria can cause, including the skin infection impetigo, scarlet fever and strep throat.

While the vast majority of infections are relatively mild, sometimes the bacteria cause serious and life-threatening invasive Group A Streptococcal (iGAS).

This occurs when the bacteria have invaded parts of the body such as the blood, deep muscle or lungs.

Two of the most severe, but rare, forms of invasive disease are necrotising fasciitis and streptococcal toxic shock syndrome.

To date, at least nine children across the UK have died from complications caused by the Strep A infection since September. This is more than expected, health chiefs have said.

The most recent death reported was Stella-Lilly McCorkindale in Belfast who attended Black Mountain Primary School.

  • Antibiotics could be given to pupils en masse as health chiefs look to control outbreaks of Strep A in primary schools after girl, 5, became the ninth child to die from the infection this winter

Her school has spoken of its ‘tragic loss’ and said ‘the thoughts of the entire school are with the pupil’s family and friends at this difficult time’. 

Mr Barclay admitted on Times Radio that individual GP clinics may have supply issues but noted that there are ‘well-established procedures’ for moving stock around the country when this a ‘surge in demand’. 

He told the station: ‘We have a dedicated team permanently in the department who does this day in, day out.

‘They’ve reassured me – I checked with them again last night knowing that as coming out on the media this morning – and they said they’re not aware of any shortages.

‘But sometimes obviously you get the peaks of demand in a particular area and stock has moved around accordingly.’ 

Mr Barclay added: ‘I think the wider issue for many of your listeners is “are there manufacturers saying that they’ve got shortages of supply?”.

‘I can only work on the best information in terms of what the team have told me, and they’ve said they’ve been in very regular contact with our suppliers, that those suppliers have said that they’re not aware of shortages.’

Speaking afterwards, the Prime Minister said parents should seek help if they think their child is affected.

He said: ‘We are seeing a higher number of cases from Strep A this year compared to usual.

‘What I can say is that the NHS… is working very hard to make sure parents are aware of the symptoms that they should be looking out to (for) because this can be treated appropriately with antibiotics.

‘There are no current shortages of drugs available to treat this and there are well-established procedures in place to ensure that that remains the case.

‘There is no reason to believe that (Strep A) has become more lethal and more resistant to antibiotics, so the most important thing for parents to do is look out for the symptoms and get the treatment that is available for them.’

But MailOnline revealed this week that UK medicine suppliers have reported three antibiotics — including one of the first-line options for Strep A — are now in short supply. 

Phenoxymethylpenicillin and alternative clarithromycin are expected to be in short supply for the rest of the year, while there are also low stocks child-specific formulations of amoxicillin.

The National Pharmacy Association (NPA) warned it was having to work ‘very hard’ to obtain antibiotics and that some options are ‘temporarily unavailable’. 

Wholesalers have told the NPA that most lines will replenished shortly — but they do not know when.

  • GPs warn they’re in ‘danger of being overwhelmed’ by Strep A as practices, A&E and NHS 111 centres are flooded by parents panicking their child may have killer bug – as five-year-old girl becomes NINTH victim of outbreak 

And Zeshan Rehmani, director of a pharmacy in Manchester, told Sky News that the Department of Health is ‘out of touch’ with on-the-ground pharmacy.

He told the broadcaster: ‘There’s no drugs. Today, we haven’t been able to get any penicillin in stock at all.

‘Pharmacists across the country are thinking we haven’t got enough penicillin to fill our prescriptions, let alone handing it out to schools.’

Meanwhile, a mother has told of her difficulties accessing the life-saving drugs for her daughter after she was diagnosed with Strep A and prescribed antibiotics.

This map shows the rates of  invasive Group A Streptococcal disease (iGAS), a serious form of Strep A infection in England’s regions. Rates are cases per 100,000 people with the outbreak highest in Yorkshire and the Humber and lowest in the East of England

The number serious infections from Strep A in England for this time year (thin green line) is far higher than pre-pandemic seasons. The current number of total cases is also much higher than the peaks of every year except 2017/18 (thin blue line). Source: UKHSA

Cases of scarlet fever, another potential complication of strep A infections are also on the rise this year (thin grey line) compared to others. Source: UKHSA

Victoria Hoult, 38, told The Sun that she spent eight hours with her nine-year-old daughter Ella at Pinderfields Hospital in Wakefield, West Yorkshire, after she had been unwell for a week.

She had already had an appointment with a GP, who said it was likely a seasonal virus. But after Ella developed a rash on her face, chest and tongue and she became more unwell, her mother called NHS 111 who told her to go to A&E.

After a seven-hour wait in the emergency department, Ella was diagnosed with Strep A and prescribed antibiotics.

But after an hour-long wait, staff informed her that they had run out of phenoxymethylpenicillin. Medics said to come the following day, or try other local hospitals.

Ms Hoult told The Sun: ‘Ella was incredibly sick and doctors said it was vital she take some antibiotics as soon as possible. 

‘But after the hospital sent us away with nothing, I was shocked. It was really scary.’ 

She secured the drugs at the hospital the following day and Ella is now recovering at home. 

Mr Barclay told Times Radio: ‘I am a parent of young children and all of us worry.’

But he noted that the bacteria ‘naturally occurs in one in five children’ and temperatures and sore throats are common in the winter months. 

From the ‘bubbly’ seven-year-old whose father desperately tried CPR to save, to the four-year-old who loved exploring: All the victims of Strep A so far

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali

The four-year-old boy attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Bucks.

He died at home from a cardiac arrest in mid-November after contracting a Strep A infection.

He was prescribed antibiotics.

His mother Shabana Kousar told the Bucks Free Press: ‘The loss is great and nothing will replace that. 

‘He was very helpful around the house and quite adventurous, he loved exploring and enjoyed the forest school, his best day was a Monday and said how Monday was the best day of the week.

Muhammad Ibrahim Ali, who attended Oakridge School and Nursery in High Wycombe, Bucks, died after contracting the bacterial infection

Hannah Roap 

The ‘bubbly’ and ‘beautiful’ seven-year-old is the only child to have died from Strep A in Wales so far.

Her devastated parents told how their ‘hearts had broken into a million pieces’. 

The first signs of the infection were mild, Hanna’s father Abul took his daughter to the GP after cough got worse overnight. 

She was prescribed steroids and sent home, but she died less than 12 hours later. 

Mr Roap recalled how he desperately tried to resuscitate his child: ‘She stopped breathing at 8pm but we were not immediately aware because she was sleeping.

‘I did CPR, I tried to revive her but it didn’t work. Paramedics arrived and continued the CPR but it was too late.’   

Mr Roap said the family was ‘utterly devastated’ and awaiting answers from the hospital.

The family believe she might have lived if she was initially given antibiotics. 

Hanna Roap, who attended Victoria Primary School in Penarth, Wales, died after contracting Strep A last month. Her family say they have been ‘traumatised’ by her death

Stella-Lily McCorkindale

Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale is the ninth British child to have died following a Strep A infection, and the first in Northern Ireland. 

She died on December 5 at Royal Belfast Hospital.

In a tribute on social media, her father Robert said the pair had ‘loved every minute’ of being together as they went on scooter and bike rides.

‘If prays, thoughts, feelings and love could of worked she would of walked out of that hospital holding her daddy’s hand,’ he said.  

Stella attended Black Mountain Primary School, who said she was ‘a bright and talented little girl’ and described her death as a ‘tragic loss’. 

Five-year-old Stella-Lily McCokindale who attended Black Mountain Primary School in Belfast died in early December after contracting Strep A

Four of the six other deaths include:

  • An unidentified six-year-old pupil who attended Ashford Church of England Primary School in England in Surrey.
  • A primary school pupil who attended St John’s School in Ealing, west London. 
  • A 12-year-old boy attending Colfe’s School in Lewisham, south east London. 
  • An unidentified child at Morelands Primary School in Waterlooville.

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