The President of the Irish Pharmacy Union has said pharmacies are experiencing a shortage in supply of various antibiotics, and has called for the introduction of a State body to ensure supplies are procured.

Health authorities are considering utilising antibiotics as a preventative measure in relation to Strep A infection, in places where children are contacts of an infected person - in a process known as chemophylaxis.

It comes after confirmation following a Health Service Executive investigation that a four-year-old child who had contracted the infection died earlier this week.

Speaking on RTÉ's Today with Claire Byrne, Dermot Twomey said the situation for pharmacists at the moment was "very difficult".

"It is very difficult at the moment in that a number of key antibiotics that we would dispense on a daily basis are running short. These would be common antibiotics such as augmentin duo and calvepen, which is often used for throat infections.

"Really its very difficult for us as pharmacists in order to try and provide a good service for the public when we’re getting prescriptions and we can't fulfil the need.

"One of the things we're looking for is that the Government look at having a single State agency for procurement and ensure there is sufficient supply in the country," he said.

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He added that the wider penicillin range "was short".

Mr Twomey said the situation was similar to "waking up and you're looking at the result of football matches the previous night, you literally don't know when you go in whether the supplies are going to be there."

He said that he was not trying to cause panic, adding that the issue was about judicious use of such medicine.

"The issue for us is that GPs are prescribing where they see antibiotics are needed, the issue for us is that we can't get the supplies in many cases," he added.

"It’s quite a precarious position we're in and what we’re looking for is a bit of forbearance from the public to understand the situation," he said.

Mr Twomey said everyone was in the same boat, adding that in cases where the prescribed medicine is unavailable, they then have to go back to GPs to see what else may work.

He said the introduction of a so-called Serious Shortage Protocol would help alleviate the situation.

Through this, pharmacists would be able to - in certain circumstances - work to a protocol allowing them to substitute medicines that are short for alternatives.

"This would help the patient in terms of speeding up supply, it would reduce stress in the pharmacy, and reduce unnecessary phone calls to already busy GPs," he said.

Mr Twomey added that more shortages in other medicines outside of antibiotics are expected down the line.

"I think we're going to see more shortages. It's antibiotics at the moment but there are issues around other medicines, such as for diabetes and epilepsy.

"These are on what are known as allocations, so each pharmacy, for some of these medicines, are only allowed a certain amount per month.

"Its making our job impossible," he added.

Despite discussions with the Department of Health and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly earlier this year on shortages - centred on HRT - Mr Twomey said the talks yielded "no traction".

"We think it’s important that the minister and department sit down and talk to us about this serious shortage protocol.

"We’re seeing shortages across Europe … they’re probably going to get worse before they get better, and so we need to look at introducing such a protocol."

Government 'very concerned' over Strep A infections

The Tánaiste has said the Government is "very concerned" over Strep A infections.

Leo Varadkar said the advice for parents is that "if your child is sick, has a high temperature, has a cough, has a sore throat, best to keep them at home."

He said children with such symptoms should be kept "under observation, contact your GP if you feel they're deteriorating or they're not getting better."

Amid concerns in other jurisdictions over supplies of the antibiotics used to treat the bacterial infection, Mr Varadkar said "we haven't been informed of any shortage of oral or IV penicillin at this stage, but we're aware of what's been signalled in the UK."

But he said the Government is "definitely going to follow up on that."

The Tánaiste also said Covid-19 type measures are not being contemplated in response to Strep A cases.

"This is not a virus, it's different, this is a bacterial infection."

However, Mr Varadkar said "one thing that Covid has taught all of us is a little bit more about how we manage infectious diseases and some of the advice that apply to Covid is valid."

Additional reporting Fergal O'Brien