Last updated: 25.07.17

Patients at risk due to antibiotics shortage

Patients across the UK are at risk because of a huge shortage of one the most widely used hospital antibiotics, according to doctors.

The drug piperacillin-tazobactam- is an antibiotic and antibacterial combination drug also known as Tazocin and is usually used regularly for patients in intensive care.

Doctors, surgeons and other medical professionals use the antibiotic to treat a large selection of conditions including cystic fibrosis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, diabetic foot infections and the life-threatening condition neutropenic sepsis (usually arising in patients receiving anti-cancer treatment).

In Scotland, hospitals have provided advice on the issue by the Scottish Antimicrobial Prescribing Group (SAPG), and in the UK the Department of Health and Public Health England have released guidance on the problem.

According to a document from NHS Fife from earlier in the year, there is a high risk that in the near future the drug will not be available at all, which will pose a huge challenge to the health services’ prescribing practice.

The likelihood of the drug being quickly replaced is also low as the document points out that other drug combinations could increase the workload for doctors and nurses when their time is already strained. This is because some will require more frequent doses and further monitoring.

The drug shortage, according to Royal Pharmaceutical Society spokesperson Philip Howard, stems from an explosion in a Chinese factory earlier this year that produced raw materials for the medication.

Because of this, hospitals in the UK have been urged to restrict their use of the medicine to conserve stocks.

A GP working in East Anglia told the Guardian that the shortage was putting patients at risk. He said: “Every hospital in this country would use it. If you look at the grades of antibiotics we have, [piperacillin-tazobactam] is probably the second rung from the top. It is not quite the last resort, but it is almost.”


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