The Government has banned the export of antibiotics used to treat group A streptococcal cases, after reports of supply issues and the UK strep A death toll reaching 15 children.

The Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) expanded the list of drugs that are banned from being exported from the UK or hoarded to include the antibiotics amoxicillin, cefalexin, phenoxymethylpenicillin and azithromycin, in an update today.

It follows a medicine supply notification from the DHSC on 12 December that supplies of antibiotics for the treatment of group A strep have seen a surge in demand ‘and may be temporarily in limited supply at certain wholesalers and pharmacies’.

Manufacturers have supplies and deliveries into wholesalers and pharmacies were being expedited in the coming days, the notification said.

If wholesalers hoard or export a medicine on the list, this could lead to regulatory action from the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), which could include immediate suspension of the wholesale dealer licence, the Government said.

Hoarding of medicines is when wholesale dealers withhold a medicine when it’s in short supply, it added, explaining that exporting or hoarding medicines can worsen medicine shortages.

This comes as GPs and pharmacists have reported being unable to source antibiotics including amoxicillin and penicillin this week, following an increase in strep A cases since September, although the Government has maintained there are no shortages of medicines.

However, pharmacy wholesalers have said the supply of antibiotics should improve soon as more stock is being delivered ‘on a daily basis’, explaining that although there is no shortage of medicines in the UK ‘per se’, ‘some stock has not yet been delivered to wholesalers to distribute’.

As of 8 December, 15 UK children had died after invasive strep A infections since September, but the death of a child with suspected strep A last week could bring that total up to 16.

A total of 6,285 cases of scarlet fever have been reported in England and Wales in the past six weeks with more than 13,000 cases between weeks 27 to 49, UK Health Security Agency figures show.

Last week, GPs were advised to have a ‘low threshold’ for prescribing antibiotics to children presenting with symptoms associated with strep A.