The alarm has been raised by ministers over a shortage of penicillin to treat Strep A as cases surge among young children.
Pharmacists will now be given powers to supply alternative treatment after 19 children were confirmed to have died in the UK with the infection since September.
Serious Shortage Protocols (SSPs) were issued for three penicillin medicines today.
It means patients do not need to return to their GP to get a new prescription if the pharmacy does not have the specific medicine in stock.
Pharmacists will instead have the flexibility to supply an alternative form if they don’t have the exact one in stock.
SSPs are a standard procedure and are used frequently to manage temporary and potential medicine supply issues.
There are nine other SSPs currently active, including for HRT medicine which some women use to ease symptoms of the menopause.
Demand for penicillin has risen recently as it is used to treat Strep A and Scarlet Fever.
The UK Health Security Agency has been urging GPs to prescribe antibiotics if there is a slight chance children may have the Strep A infection.
It has led to some pharmacists experiencing temporary and localised supply issues.
There are various versions of penicillin – liquid, sugar-free liquid and tablet.
The Chief Pharmacist provided guidance to the profession last week emphasising the importance of prescribers and local pharmacy teams working together to understand availability of antibiotics locally.
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.
“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.”
The latest data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows there is an out of season increase in scarlet fever and Strep A infections.
There is no evidence to suggest this is a new strain and it is likely being caused by high amounts of circulating bacteria and increased social mixing.
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.
However, children can on occasion develop a bacterial infection on top of a virus and that can make them more unwell.
As a parent, if you feel that your child seems seriously unwell, you should trust your own judgement.