The UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has launched an investigation into the skyrocketing prices of antibiotics following the surge in Strep A cases. Pharmacies have accused drug companies of hiking the prices of these antibiotics following the rise in cases. They said that the companies were charging them up to £19 for a box of medicines that would normally only cost a few pounds. This came after the UK Health Security Agency urged GPs to prescribe more antibiotics or children who may have worsening symptoms linked to it, in a bid to tackle the outbreak that has killed 16 children since September.
Pharmacies said that as a result of price rises, they were losing thousands of pounds every week, as they can only recoup a fraction of the cost of the drugs from the NHS.
Many parents have had to go between pharmacies looking for somewhere that actually has capacity to dispense the key drug which is often used to treat ear and chest infections in children. Doctors in some instances have handed parents a paper prescription in anticipation of differing stock levels at different pharmacies.
In many cases, GPs often send an electronic prescription to a chemist of choice for an individual to pick up within the same day. On Monday, the Department of Health issued a warning saying that supplies of antibiotics for the treatment of Strep A “may be temporarily limited” at certain wholesalers and pharmacies.
This came following a statement from Health Secretary Steve Barclay, who insisted there is no shortage of antibiotics to treat Strep A.
Meanwhile, the National Pharmacy Association said there were supply “blips” while the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies which represents 4,000 outlets said many were struggling to find the drugs needed.
Now, a spokesperson for the CMA has said: “People have got real concerns about the price of antibiotics used to treat Strep A, and we want companies to be clear about their obligations under the law.
“There should be no doubt that it is illegal for a dominant company to charge excessive prices, or for any companies to collude to drive up prices.
“We are working to establish the facts of what is currently happening in the market and welcome new information as part of our work. We stand ready to take action if there is evidence of anti-competitive behaviour that breaks the law.”
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He said: “Last week, Health Minister Lord Markham stated in the House of Lords, ‘We have given instructions to doctors that, where necessary, they should be proactively prescribing penicillin [an antibiotic] as the best line of defence’.
“However laudable the Minister’s intentions, using antibiotics such as penicillin as a prophylactic – that is, as a precautionary measure rather than to treat a diagnosed case – is mistaken.
“It’s effectively a nuclear option, a decision of final resort. Taking antibiotics too often can change bacteria so much that the antibiotics stop working against them.
“This is called bacterial resistance or antibiotic resistance. Some bacteria are now resistant to even the most powerful antibiotics available.”