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Tamiflu millions challenged

Wednesday December 9th, 2009

The millions spent on treating suspected swine flu patients with Tamiflu faced damning criticism from an expert analysis last night.

Experts commissioned by the British Medical Journal said they could not find evidence that Tamiflu - oseltamivir - had anything but minor benefits for patients who are otherwise healthy.

Globally the equivalent of some 1.6 billion UK pounds is said to have been spent on the drug this year - with nearly a third of that coming from the British government.

Experts said they could not find convincing published evidence of trials to support the use of the drug.

Details of some eight "key" trials had never been published.

Two studies were conducted for the journal by Professor Chris Del Mar, of Bond University, Australia, and Professor Nick Freemantle, of Birmingham University, UK.

The Australian team concluded they had "no confidence in claims that oseltamivir reduces the risk of complicationsof influenza in otherwise healthy adults, and believe it should not be used in routine control of seasonal influenza."

Professor Freemantle said interpretation of studies was "difficult", concluding: "Oseltamivir may reduce the risk of pneumonia in otherwise healthy people who contract flu. However, the absolute benefit is small, and side effects and safety should also be considered."

He said last night: "We have remarkably few resources in this country to spend on pharmaceuticals on health and it's surprising to see such widespread use of oseltamivir.

"But I suppose that once you've gone and bought lots of doses then it's a bit like the situation with gun control in the US. If you have a gun in the house it's much easier to use it. But it does not mean it's the right thing to do."

Manufacturers Roche have since agreed to set up a password-controlled website to give researchers access to their studies of the drug.

The company told the BMJ it "firmly believes" that the evidence supporting the use of the drug is "robust".

* Meanwhile the English NHS is to press ahead with swine flu vaccination of infants and young children in spite of failing to reach agreement with GPs, it was announced yesterday.

Health secretary Andy Burnham ordered the programme to begin before Christmas after talks with the British Medical Association broke down.

Instead of a national agreement, primary care trusts have been ordered to put in place local arrangements.

The government is anxious to press ahead with the programme for children aged between six months and five years after its advisers identified infants as being at high risk of complications from the H1N1 virus.

Mr Burnham said: "It is disappointing that we have not been able to come to a national agreement with GPs to vaccinate children from six months to five years old.

"But we are now getting on with the job and asking local health trusts to put local plans in place so that vaccination of these children can begin seamlessly.

"The supply of vaccine is increasing and we should therefore be able to meet the demand for vaccine and begin vaccinating children before Christmas."

The BMA said mid-winter was a busy time of year for GPs and the government had failed to offer enough support to free staff to conduct the programme.

GP committee chairman Dr Laurence Buckman said: "We sincerely wanted to be able to reach a national agreement with the UK governments about a process for vaccinating the under fives against swine flu.

"We would encourage Local Medical Committees and Primary Care Organisations to put in place arrangements that are sensitive to the workload pressures in their area. These should be agreed as soon as possible.

"We appreciate that parents of young children might be worried when they hear that there will be no national framework and want to assure them that this does not mean their children will not be vaccinated."

Tags: Australia | Child Health | Flu & Viruses | Pharmaceuticals | UK News | World Health

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