The Government has issued serious shortage protocols (SSPs) allowing pharmacists to supply different forms of antibiotics to help manage ‘local supply issues’.

An SSP has been issued for phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution sugar free, phenoxymethylpenicillin 250mg/5ml oral solution and phenoxymethylpenicillin 125mg/5ml oral solution sugar free.

Pharmacists will be able to dispense alternative formulations according to what they have in stock without a GP having to write a new prescription.

The Department of Health and Social Care said the measure had been put in place in response to ongoing high demand for antibiotics for treating strep A and scarlet fever.

Similar steps have been taken in response to other medicines shortages including for hormone replacement therapy.

It follows steps earlier this week to add several antibiotics used to treat strep A infections to the list of medicines that cannot be exported from the UK or hoarded.

Amoxicillin and penicillin V are on the list issued by the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC), along with azithromycin and cefalexin.

GP consultations for scarlet fever and disease notifications are rising more steeply than expected for this time of year as are cases of invasive group A streptococcus, although less pronounced, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has warned.

Minister of state for health Will Quince said: ‘The increased demand for the antibiotics prescribed to treat strep A has meant some pharmacists have been unable to supply the medicine shown on the prescription.

‘These Serious Shortage Protocols will allow pharmacists to supply an alternative form of penicillin, which will make things easier for them, patients, and GPs.’

He added the Government was continuing to work with manufacturers and wholesalers to speed up deliveries and boost supply to meet demand as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, the Competition and Markets Authority confirmed it was investigating after reports from pharmacists that antibiotic prices have increased amidst the heightened demand.

On 12 December, DHSC announced a medicine supply notification that said 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’.

Wholesalers then said that the supply of antibiotics should improve 'soon' as more stock is being delivered ‘on a daily basis’.

This follows confusion and mixed messaging about whether there was a shortage of antibiotics in the UK, with DHSC initially saying that it was not aware of any supply issues of amoxicillin, before adding that 'there is no supplier shortage of antibiotics' but that 'we sometimes have surges for products and increased demand means some pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining certain antibiotics'.