Supply of antiviral drugs dwarfs numbers who have contracted disease
August 10, 2009
By Steve Connor and Lewis Smith
Tens of thousands of people have faked swine flu symptoms to persuade the NHS to issue them with antiviral drugs, government data suggests.
The number of people given Tamiflu is seven times higher than the number suffering the virus, with official figures showing there were 30,000 new cases of swine flu in the week up to 4 August, yet 30,000 doses of the drug were given out on average each day for the same period.
It is feared that – unless the Government has seriously underestimated the scale of the epidemic – many of those prescribed Tamiflu are stockpiling it to be sure of having access to the powerful drug if and when they or members of their family contract the illness.
Others are thought to be using the service to get themselves signed off sick for seven days, rather than having to go to work, and in some cases it is suspected the prescriptions are being sold. The data supports concerns that controls against misuse of the drug – which can have serious side-effects – are ineffective. Patients wanting the antiviral drug simply have to contact the National Pandemic Flu Service and provide – or fake – a few basic details about their symptoms on the phone or over the internet.
Inquiries at the 19 NPFS centres, which were established to stop doctors becoming overwhelmed by the volume of swine flu patients, are assessed by staff who have limited training and are not required to have medical qualifications. Some are as young as 16.
“Either there are a lot more cases out there than the Health Protection Agency estimates, or tens of thousands who are not suffering H1N1 flu are ringing up, describing their ‘symptoms’, and getting antiviral treatment,” said Nigel Hawkes, director of Straight Statistics, a pressure group which monitors Government statistics.
“Perhaps they all think they might have flu, or perhaps they think it might be nice to have some Tamiflu tucked away in the medicine cupboard for when they do get it,” Mr Hawkes said.