Pharmacy bosses have warned of a shortage of cough and cold medicines, with some pharmacists “struggling to obtain the very basic” supplies.
Throat lozenges, cough mixtures and some painkillers are among the over-the-counter medicines in short supply, according to the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies.
The industry group warned of supply issues of both branded and unbranded medicines to treat seasonal illnesses.
It comes after the UK Health Security Agency warned that winter illnesses, including flu and COVID-19, continue to circulate at “high levels”.
Officials have urged unwell adults to wear face masks to stem the spread of infections, while parents have been urged to keep children with a fever off school.
Chief executive Leyla Hannbeck said that pharmacists were “struggling to obtain the very basic, most common cold and flu medicine”.
She said: “This isn’t just the branded medicines, it is also simple things like throat lozenges, cough mixtures or painkillers – particularly the ones that are soluble.
“The demand has been high because this season we’ve seen higher cases of colds and flu and people are obviously trying very hard to look after themselves and making sure that they use the relevant products to manage the symptoms.
“And that has led to a shortage of these products in terms of us not being able to obtain them.
“On the front line it is very difficult because we’re seeing these shortages but those people who are in charge of supporting us with it are denying it.”
High street chain Superdrug said that it had seen a huge demand for cough and cold medicines.
Ms Hannbeck, whose group represents community-based pharmacy businesses with multiple stores, warned that a shortage of self-care products in pharmacies could lead to more pressure on the NHS.
She said it was concerning that “when people go to pharmacies and try and get hold of the products over the counter, particularly for small children, then people start to stress and panic and what we don’t want to happen is for more people to go to their GP or A&E when the NHS is already under a lot of strain”.
Despite the warning of shortages, Ms Hannbeck urged people “not to panic”.
“As pharmacists, we do everything we can to ensure we support patients in every way possible and try and sort alternatives, or give advice on how to manage cold and flu symptoms,” she added.
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It comes after Professor Susan Hopkins, chief medical adviser of the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), on Tuesday warned adults to stay at home when feeling unwell or wear face coverings when going outside in order to minimise the spread of illnesses.
She added that adults should not “visit vulnerable people unless urgent” when feeling unwell.
The advice comes as part of the UKHSA’s “simple steps” to help protect children and vulnerable individuals as pupils return to schools and universities after the Christmas break.
Prof Hopkins added that it is “important to minimise the spread of infection in schools and other education and childcare settings”, and recommended that children with a fever or feeling unwell should also stay home from school or nursery in order to help stop illness spreading.
The UKHSA warned that both flu and COVID-19 are currently “circulating at high levels”, which is likely to continue to increase in coming weeks.
Tim Spector, professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College London and founder of the COVID Zoe app, also highlighted an Omicron variant after a scientist said cases had more than doubled in America in a week.
High numbers of scarlet fever, which is caused by group A Streptococcus (Strep A), also continue to be reported in the UK. At least 30 children in the UK have died from invasive Strep A, and across all age groups in England, there have been 122 fatalities.
Thorrun Govind, chair of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society, said in reference to the cold and cough medicine shortage: “We are concerned and yes there is a supply chain issue that the government needs to seriously look at.”