Strep A: Pharmacies can now give alternative antibiotics
Pharmacists will now be able to give alternative forms of penicillin directly to patients to help treat strep A infections, amid temporary supply issues of the antibiotic.
It follows a rise in demand for the medicine because of an out-of-season increase in strep A illnesses.
There have been 18 confirmed deaths of children in the UK with rare, invasive strep A infections.
Experts advise anyone concerned about symptoms to seek prompt medical advice.
Strep A infections tend to increase in the winter and peak in the spring, but this year cases are rising at an earlier point than usual - which is probably down to changes in the normal cycle of infections, because of the Covid pandemic and increased social mixing.
Many strep A infections are mild - causing a sore throat or skin infection - but occasionally, a very serious infection with invasive group A strep (iGAS) can develop.
Doctors can prescribe penicillin antibiotics at home to help treat mild infections, but severe cases need to be treated in hospital.
Usually when patients take prescriptions to pharmacists they must - by law - only supply the exact medicine on the forms. If the medicines are not available, patients have to go back to their doctors to get new prescriptions.
Some pharmacists have been unable to give the specific prescribed medicine.
Under the new protocol, patients no longer have to go back to GPs for an alternative prescription.
There are various forms of penicillin - liquid, sugar-free liquid, and tablets - and pharmacists will now be able to give some of these forms as alternatives.
Health and Secondary Care minister Will Quince said the protocol would help make things easier for pharmacists, patients and GPs.
He added: "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."
Since September, records suggest 18 children in the UK have died after severe iGAS infections.
This includes 16 children in England and one in Northern Ireland, while the death of a child in Wales has also been confirmed.
Figures for England show that 58 adults have also died from the same condition in the same period.
This is the highest number of deaths since the winter of 2017-18, when 27 children and 328 adults died with invasive strep A.
According to UK Health Security Agency experts, there is no evidence to suggest there is a new strain of strep A circulating.
Strep A symptoms include flu-like symptoms - a sore throat, headache, fever, and muscle aches. If there is also a rash that feels rough like sandpaper, it could be scarlet fever - which needs antibiotics.
Source: BBC News UK