HEALTH chiefs have denied that out-of-date flu medication poses a risk to people who take it.
The HSE and Irish Medicines Board (IMB) moved yesterday to reassure the public after it emerged that out of date medication is being supplied to swine flu sufferers.
Both bodies confirmed that while the Tamiflu tablets -- routinely prescribed by GPs for H1N1 or swine flu -- showed expiry dates in 2010, the drugs were safe to use and effective.
Manufacturers of Tamiflu, pharmaceutical giant Roche, also insisted that there was no safety issue with tablets bearing an expiry date in 2010.
GPs around the country, who are dealing with a rush of new swine flu cases daily, are prescribing Tamiflu as a matter of course for the virus. The medication does not cure the flu, but it lessens the symptoms and, as a result, helps prevent its spread.
But many patients have been discovering that the regular 75mg tablets have an expiry date of June last year. And some pharmacists were refusing to fill prescriptions for this dose because the stocks to hand were also out of date.
Responding to these concerns yesterday, the HSE and IMB provided a technical document from the European Medicines Agency confirming that the shelf life of Tamiflu had been extended by a further two years.
The Agency's Committee for Human Medicinal Products had determined that the shelf life for Tamiflu should be extended for the extra two years and that boxes of Tamiflu capsules should not be discarded where the expiry date had already passed.
"For these batches an updated expiry date should be determined by adding a further period of two years to the stated expiry date," the document said. A statement from the IMB said: "Existing stock of Tamiflu which was originally labelled with the five-year shelf life is now approved by regulatory authorities across Europe for use of up to seven years."
A spokesperson for the Irish Pharmacy Union pointed out that pharmacists were dispensing Tamiflu on behalf of the HSE. "Tamiflu dispensed in Irish pharmacies would not be out of date", the spokesperson stressed.
While some medical professionals appeared to be in receipt of a circular from the HSE explaining the extended shelf-life of the Tamiflu tablets, a number of pharmacists had not been notified and had already refused to supply the out of date medication to customers with prescriptions.
A spokesperson for manufacturers Roche stressed that the HSE had purchased all stocks of Tamiflu and owned the stock in Ireland. "There is no safety issue here at all," the spokesperson added.