Strep A has now been linked to the deaths of at least 15 children in the UK as A&E doctors warn emergency departments have seen a doubling in young patients in emergency departments over the last week.
The infection has hit the NHS during its busiest period time, with pharmacies struggling with localised shortages of antibiotics – leaving parents struggling to find medicine for their sick children.
NHS trust directors and doctors have warned of A&Es overflowing with children attending with winter viruses such as flu, RSV and now Strep A.
It comes as A&Es in England saw record delays with one-third of patients waiting more than four hours to be seen, while NHS 111 services saw a spike in calls last weekend.
Dr Adrian Boyle, president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, said: “There is significant pressure in our paediatric departments, and it’s not just worried parents with Strep, its persistent problems that we’ve got with RSV and flu.
“We think we’re seeing a doubling of paediatric attendances, part of the problem is group A Strep does require some face to face consultation.”
He confirmed the college had received reports of children waiting for more than 15 hours in A&E adding “the whole system dealing with newly sick children is under enormous pressure.”
Dr Boyle also warned the situation made it harder to control infections.
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Doctors across the country have warned record highs of children in A&E in the last two days, one trust director said their A&E had 50 per cent more than we have physical space to seat people so had to use an “overflow” area.
Rachel Curtis, from Northumberland, told The Independent she was “terrified” of her clinically-vulnerable daughter becoming ill after it took 20 hours to obtain prescribed antibiotics, with NHS 111 and walk-in services turning her away.
She described her experience trying to find care for Betsy, who is five and has a history of long-term lung conditions linked to Down syndrome, as “horrendous”.
Ms Curtis said that, after calling 999 on Sunday, she could not get an ambulance for an hour and a half and so drove Betsy to A&E ion Newcastle where she was “shocked” to see the department “rammed” with “kids sitting on the floor.”
“I knew the NHS was in a really bad way, but I was really shocked to see the state of the A&E,” she said. “Then actually [not] being able to speak to anyone about the antibiotics.”
New data from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) shows 15 children under the age of 15 have died in the UK since September, and there have been 652 reports of invasive Strep disease, higher than at the same points over the last five years.
The UKHSA says the last time there was a significant number of cases was in the 2017/18 season when there were 27 deaths in children under 18 in England and 328 adult deaths.
Healthcare sources told The Independent they fear the Strep A wave has come at the worst time for the NHS with previous waves lasting four to eight weeks.
New data published by the NHS on Thursday show a spike in the number of people abandoning NHS 111 calls, as services experienced rocketing demand.
NHS England has warned healthcare providers news over Strep A has driven additional pressures for emergency, NHS 111 and GP services.
‘Shortages are across the board’
Pharmacists across the country have continued to raise alarm over shortages in getting antiboitic supplies for patients, after wholesalers supplies ran out due to a surge in demand.
Martin Sawer executive officer for the Healthcare Distribution Association, which represents the largest pharmacy wholesalers told The Independent the wholesalers were working to replenish stocks with manufacturers but that problems could last days.
He said: “The main reason for the challenges why pharmacists are having so much difficulty getting products at the moment is demand has outstripped supply very very quickly in an unexpected way.”
…we would like really some central communication from the [government’s] chief pharmaceutical officer, the chief medical officer to ask the supply chain prescribers, dispensers wholesalers manufacturers, to not increase demand too quickly.”
Leyla Hannbeck of the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies said the government and wholesalers should have anticipated the issue as demand had gone up since November.
She said: “We’re getting get a lot of pharmacists from all various parts of the country reporting and sending screenshots that it’s very difficult for them to obtain. We know that since November, there’s been a spike in the number of prescriptions prescribed for antibiotics.”
“It is very hard for us when people come in expecting to get their antibiotics, because the government has said there is supply. We have to turn them around and tell them there isn’t and it’s heartbreaking to turn people away.
Raza Ali, a community pharmacist-owner told The Independent “Shortages are across the board. Anything to do with amoxicillin is short. Problems started early November, and it was ignored, because the feedback system is awful and also requires the wholesalers to be transparent with the government.
“And now it’s got to a point where it’s becoming a crisis. Patients are coming in, and they’ve been to maybe four or five different pharmacies before they get to us and none of them have stock.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “There is no supplier shortage of antibiotics available to treat Strep A. We sometimes have surges for products and increased demand means some pharmacies are having difficulties obtaining certain antibiotics.
“We are working urgently with manufactures and wholesalers to explore what can be done to expedite deliveries and bring forward stock they have to help ensure it gets to where it’s needed, to meet demand as quickly as possible and support access to these vital medicines.”