Antiviral advice 'ignored by ministers'

Government advisers warned ministers against widespread use of antiviral drugs, the Guardian has reported.

SPL
SPL

However, the advice was ignored because of fears that failing to use the UK's stockpile of antiviral drugs would be unacceptable to the public, the story claims.

The government's Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza advised it that there was no need for the widespread use of Tamiflu, according to committee member Professor Robert Dingwall, director of the Institute for Science and Society at Nottingham University. The committee suggested that the public should simply be told to take paracetamol.

Professor Dingwall said that there had been discussions within the Health Protection Authority and the DoH about whether to reserve antivirals for high-risk groups and to advise others to take paracetamol or ibuprofen.

‘Some people wanted to take a long-term view of the risk of resistance developing and to seek to preserve the effectiveness of antivirals for the next pandemic, which may be more severe,' he told The Guardian.

A DoH spokeswoman said that the government had not gone against the advice of its own experts. ‘The Government is advised by a whole range of eminent scientists and experts in this field,' she said. ‘Occasionally a committee on one issue will advise something slightly different to another committee, although this was not the case in relation to our decision to offer Tamiflu to everyone with influenza. The Government rightly has to take decisions based on many factors and on the balance of scientific advice available at the time.'

She said that the Committee on Ethical Aspects of Pandemic Influenza had not recommended that the Government should withhold anti-virals, but had advised that if the virus was known to be mild, that it would be ethically acceptable to justify not offering anti-virals to otherwise healthy people. ‘The Committee said the Government "could" rather than "should",' she said. ‘However, there is still doubt about how swine flu affects people, so a safety-first approach is the best approach.'

She added: ‘There is still doubt about how swine flu affects people - a safety-first approach is the best approach. This means offering antivirals when required. However, we will keep this policy under review as we learn more about the virus and its effects.'

tom.moberly@haymarket.com

  • Should the government have restricted access to antivirals?

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