Thursday 22 February 2018

HSE spent millions on flu drug 'no better than paracetamol'

A packet of Tamiflu Anti-Flu Virus capsules. Photo: PA
A packet of Tamiflu Anti-Flu Virus capsules. Photo: PA

Eilish O’Regan, Health Correspondent

THE health service is spending millions of euro stockpiling a flu drug, which researchers say is no better than paracetamol.

Tamiflu does not prevent complications, stop people passing on the flu virus or prevent a pandemic, the ‘British Medical Journal’ reported.

But the Health Service Executive (HSE) confirmed yesterday it still regards it as an essential medicine on the advice of the World Health Organisation and is holding it in stock for use in treating flu along with health authorities around the world.

A spokesman said: “The HSE currently has sufficient stocks of Tamiflu to cover approximately 40pc of population in the case of a pandemic.

“The HSE stocks Tamiflu on the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) and continues to hold stocks of antiviral medicine in reserve as part of normal pandemic influenza contingency planning in line with international best practice,” he said.

The HSE was unable to say how much it has spent on stockpiles over the years but it had to destroy more than €2m worth of the product in 2012 because it was past its expiry date.

The latest controversy about the drug follows a review, published by The Cochrane Collaboration, the independent, global healthcare research network, and ‘British Medical Journal’.

The HSE spokesman said: “Irish health authorities regularly review all published data and will consider the Cochrane review closely.”

The research said Tamiflu shortens symptoms of flu by half a day, but there is no good evidence to support claims that it reduces admissions to hospital or complications of the illness.

But it was also found to increase the risk of nausea and vomiting, and when used in prevention trials there was a higher chance of side-effects including headaches, psychiatric disturbances and kidney problems.


Although when used as a preventative treatment the drug can reduce the risk of people suffering symptomatic flu, it is not proven that it can stop people carrying the virus and spreading it to others.

The review is based on 20 Tamiflu and 26 Relenza trials. These trials involved more than 24,000 people and the findings challenge the historical assumption that neuraminidase inhibitors are effective in combating influenza.

In 2009, a lack of access to available trial data hampered the efforts of the Cochrane researchers to verify the safety and effectiveness of Tamiflu – and led to questions over decisions to stockpile the drug while the risks and benefits remained uncertain.

The worldwide use of Tamiflu has increased dramatically since the outbreak swine flu in April 2009.

However, the original evidence presented to government agencies, including Ireland, was incomplete.

During the swine flu pandemic over the winter of 2009-2010 the HSE spent €26.4m administering the swine flu vaccine but was forced to destroy more stock after it was linked to the incurable disease narcolepsy in children.

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