Health bosses desperate to contain the worsening flu outbreak have authorised the use of controversial antiviral drugs.
Tamiflu and other antivirals should be given to the most vulnerable people with symptoms of flu, according to a ‘health alert’ sent to all GPs.
But officials also suggested the drugs be used as a preventative measure for elderly people, even if they have received the flu vaccine – which is feared not to work for over-65s this year.
Controversial drugs will be given to vulnerable people with flu symptoms. But officials also suggested the drugs be used as a preventative measure for elderly people, even if they have received the flu vaccine – which is feared not to work for over-65s this year
Tamiflu (above) and other antivirals will be given to the most vulnerable people with symptoms of flu, according to a ‘health alert’ sent to all GPs
In some parts of the country, doctors have been told to give all care home residents the antivirals – whether they are ill or not – in a bid to stop the crisis spreading.
A leading scientist last night condemned the decision, saying there is no evidence antivirals are effective.
If he is right, it will mean by the end of the winter countless pensioners will have received an ineffective flu jab, followed by ineffective antiviral pills, and still be at risk of getting flu.
A MailOnline analysis shows that deaths in England will quadruple by the end of the month – if flu continues to escalate at the same levels
Dame Sally Davies, the chief medical officer, sent the alert on December 19 to all GPs in England granting them permission to use pills such as Tamiflu.
This alert is sent at some point in the winter most years – but this year it can be used as a preventative measure, not just as a treatment.
However, Professor Carl Heneghan of Oxford University, who published a major study four years ago suggesting Tamiflu is ineffective, said: ‘The chief medical officer seems not to be able to understand evidence-based medicine.
Between the last week of December, dubbed 51, and the first week of January, dubbed one, England saw a 77 per cent jump in flu symptoms
Currently, Scotland is reporting the highest number of GP consultations for flu in the UK – rising from 46.3 per 100,000 people to 107.2 per 100,000 people
‘We have shown Tamiflu leads to only a small reduction in symptoms – about the same you get from taking paracetamol.’
He added last night: ‘The Government is scared of being seen to do nothing.
‘But they have tied themselves into the position where they have to give these drugs every year.’
Northern Ireland will hit epidemic levels of flu at the same time as England and Scotland, according to an analysis of official figures
Wales will reach its flu epidemic threshold by next week, if current trends continue
WHAT FLU STRAINS ARE IN THE UK?
There are many different types of flu circulating around the world, but four main types are being seen in Britain this winter.
H3N2 – Dubbed ‘Aussie flu’ after it struck Australia hard last winter, this strain is more likely to affect the elderly, who do not respond well to the current vaccine.
This is one of the most common strains seen so far this winter, with 63 confirmed cases seen in official laboratories.
H1N1 – This strain – known as ‘swine flu’ – is generally more likely to hit children, who respond well to vaccination.
This has been seen nearly as often as H3N2 so far this year, with 50 cases confirmed in labs.
In the past it was only commonly caught from pigs, but that changed in 2009 when it started spreading rapidly among humans in a major global pandemic.
B / Yamagata – This is known as ‘Japanese flu’. Only people who received the ‘four strain’ vaccine – which is being slowly rolled out after it was introduced for the first time this winter – are protected against the Yamagata strain.
Those who received the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine are not protected, and it has been seen in 63 lab cases so far this winter.
B / Victoria – This strain is vaccinated against in the normal ‘three strain’ vaccine, but has hardly appeared so far this winter, with just four confirmed cases
Official figures show the NHS is in the midst of its worst flu outbreak in seven years.
The problem is likely to have been made worse because the main H3N2 flu strain circulating this year is resistant against vaccination among the elderly.
Advice published by Public Health England in September said GPs could consider using antiviral pills among healthy over-65s, because ‘seasonal influenza vaccination may be less effective’.
No waiting list here, boast French
A French hospital is using the NHS winter crisis to urge English patients to cross the Channel for quicker care.
One leaflet from the Centre Hospitalier in Calais urges the British to choose it for elective surgery, adding simply: ‘Why wait?’
Compared with waits of 18 weeks in the UK, patients who travel to France can be treated within four weeks, they say. The hospital is run in partnership with health chiefs in south Kent, and according to the Department of Health only patients living in this area are eligible.
The clinical commissioning group for South Kent Coast first signed the deal with the hospital two years ago – over fears that patients were waiting too long for procedures such as hip operations.
It added: ‘Clinicians should note however, that such use is outside the NICE guidance recommendations and would therefore be a matter for individual clinical judgment.’ Tamiflu was subject to a major controversy after the NHS spent £600million stockpiling pills in the wake of the 2009 swine flu crisis.
Officials last night insisted antivirals are effective.
Nick Phin, interim deputy director of the National Infection Service, said: ‘Flu is an unpredictable virus, but immunisation to prevent influenza and antivirals to treat and reduce spread are the best defence we have against it.’
A Department of Health spokesman said: ‘Tamiflu is a licensed product with a proven record of safety and quality.
‘They are particularly helpful to at-risk patients and those severely unwell with flu, especially when they are used when symptoms start.’