Some GPs may lack antibiotics for Strep A but UK has ‘good’ supplies, says Health Secretary

Some GPs may be struggling to get hold of antibiotics against Strep A but Britain has enough overall supplies, Health Secretary Steve Barclay said on Wednesday.

He also urged parents to remain “vigilant” against the risks to children of severe Strep A illnesses after the death of nine children.

Some family practices have been reporting shortages of antibiotics to combat Strep A.

Mr Barclay told BBC Breakfast “Manufacturers have said they don’t have concerns in terms of supplies at the moment.”

However, he added: “It’s always the case that if you have a particular surge in one or two GPs then the response to that is looking at our warehouse depots, suppliers look at their warehouse depots and how they move their stock around.

“What the suppliers have said to us is they do have good levels of supply and that is not a concern at the moment.

“And where there are particular issues with GPs then they will move that stock around accordingly.”

Health Secretary Steve Barclay leaves the Millbank studios in Westminster earlier (PA)
Health Secretary Steve Barclay leaves the Millbank studios in Westminster earlier (PA)

Earlier, he stressed that there are “good supplies” of antibiotics as he urged parents and other adults to be “vigilant” about the risk of children getting seriously ill from Strep A.

He told GB News: “It’s important that people are vigilant in terms of the concerns with Strep A.

“If they have concerns around a child who is ill there is some very clear guidance on the NHS website.

“There was a video issued by the give parents some clarification on this.”

He stressed that the Government was in “very close contact” with its medical suppliers who had not notified it of any shortage of antibiotics against Strep A.

He added: “In terms of antibiotics, we have good supplies. That is what the medical suppliers have told us but we are keeping it under close review.”

Local health protection teams can give antibiotics to groups of children where there has been a Strep A outbreak, the deputy director of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said.

Dr Colin Brown told Sky News there is “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”.

He reiterated there is no evidence to suggest there has been a change to the circulating strains of Strep A to make them more severe, following the deaths of at least nine children across the UK.

The latest death was of Stella-Lilly McCorkindale in Belfast who attended Black Mountain Primary School. The school spoke of its “tragic loss” and said, “the thoughts of the entire school are with the pupil’s family and friends at this difficult time”.

Dr Brown suggested that a lack of mixing due to the Covid pandemic plus susceptibility in children are probably “bringing forward the normal scarlet fever season” from spring to this side of Christmas.

He said: “There isn’t something that is particularly new or novel about the bacteria that are causing the infections that we’re seeing at the moment.

“We are seeing a larger number of infections, for example, causing scarlet fever, than we would normally see this time of year.”

Updated guidance on scarlet fever outbreaks, which are caused by Strep A, published by the UKHSA in October sets out how antibiotics can be used as prophylaxis but a decision is taken with local outbreak control teams (OCTs) on “a case-by-case basis”.

It added: “It can be considered in exceptional circumstances by the OCT; for example, when there are reports of severe outcomes, or hospitalisations.”

The UKHSA has advised medics to have a low threshold for prescribing antibiotics for children who may be suffering infection linked to Strep A.