Tamiflu enquiry questions NHS epidemic management

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Fiona Godlee, BMJ web The MHRA has denied that it failed to secure adequate clinical data to support urgent decisions about the stockpiling of Tamiflu by the NHS.

The parliamentary Public Accounts Committee, investigating the process whereby the NHS spent £424m on Tamiflu in six years but only used £25m worth, has focused on the way the Department of Health managed the flu epidemic.

Roche, the manufacturer of Tamiflu (oseltamivir), had agreed to give evidence at the hearing but pulled out last week.

Despite the company’s recent promise to make ‘redacted’ trial data available to the Cochrane research group, the ‘Tamiflugate’ scandal of missing data is continuing to draw criticism.

Fiona Godlee (pictured), Editor in Chief of the BMJ, told the Committee: “Historically, over a period of time, what you have is a situation where research has been put to use for marketing purposes rather than for science.”

The enquiry follows a report by the National Audit Office stating that between 2006 and 2013, the DH bought nearly 40m units of Tamiflu but only 2.4m units were consumed and 10m units (costing £42m) were wasted due to poor storage and record-keeping.

However, Kent Woods, MHRA Chief Executive, said: “I am confident that we had access to all the relevant data because there is legal force to require that.”

The Government’s stockpiling of Tamiflu was “politically expedient”, according to Fiona Godlee: “There was an outbreak of potentially serious influenza, and there was a WHO recommendation that countries should do this [stockpile antivirals]. The UK wanted to have something.”

The effectiveness of Tamiflu as an antiviral is in doubt, she added, because it has only been tested against placebo – “It hasn’t ever been compared in a direct comparison with, for example, paracetamol or indeed a stiff whisky.”