Antivirals can be prescribed more widely, but supply problems remain

GPs now have greater freedom to prescribe antivirals more widely on the NHS, but patients continue to face problems obtaining these drugs from pharmacies.

Interim chief medical officer Professor Dame Sally Davies has said GPs should be able to use their clinical discretion in prescribing antivirals on the NHS. This would mean any patient who a GP believes is at serious risk of developing complications from influenza could receive antiviral treatment on the NHS.

At present GPs can only prescribe antiviral on the NHS to patients in identified clinical risk groups. Dame Sally has recommended amending these restrictions.

Dame Sally has written to PCTs asking them not to take enforcement action against GPs who prescribe antivirals for patients who are not in the identified clinical risk groups but who they believe are at risk of developing serious complications.

A DoH spokesman told GP the government would be amending the relevant legislation in the New Year, following engagement with key stakeholders and subject to Parliamentary process.

All NHS prescriptions for the antiviral drugs oseltamivir and zanamivir must continue to be endorsed 'SLS' by the prescriber to be valid for dispensing, Dame Sally said.

Flu cases more than doubled last week, but some pharmacies and dispensing doctors have faced problems obtaining sufficient supplies of antivirals.

The DoH has also released batches of antivirals from its medicines stockpile in order to help maintain stocks in pharmacies.

A spokesman for pharmacy wholesaler AAH said the company had asked pharmacies only to order sufficient quantities to meet actual patient demand. ‘Excess ordering could create shortages for other customers who have patients with prescriptions which need to be fulfilled,’ he said.

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