How many people are spinning a line to the National Pandemic Flu Service to build up a stockpile of antivirals?
The question arises because of huge discrepancies between the estimates of the number of new swine flu cases last week – 30,000 – and the authorisations of Tamiflu made by the NPFS – around 30,000 a day.
Either there are a lot more cases out there than the HPA estimates, or tens of thousands of people who aren’t suffering from H1N1 flu are ringing up, describing their “symptoms”, and getting authorisation for antiviral treatment. 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.
On the basis of the HPA Weekly report for the week ending 2 August, at least five times as many people are getting Tamiflu as are getting flu.
Here's the graph from the report showing the number of assessments and antiviral authorisations. It's clear from the figures that far more people are getting antivirals than the 30,000 supposed to have acquired H1N1 flu over the period.
This makes a bit of a mockery of having stopped household prophylaxis, in order to save money and conserve supplies. But there were always question marks over how easy it would be to police the provision of Tamiflu once GPs were out of the equation.
The Government’s stockpile of almost 30 million doses of Tamiflu was reported in 2007 to have cost £300 million. So the cost of providing it to people who do have have the disease and may never get it is not trivial.
The Department of Health said from the start that it would be relying on the public to be responsible in using the system. “There is no need to jump the queue, because the UK is in a strong position when it comes to Tamilflu” a spokesman said when fears were raised. “There is more than enough to cover everyone likely to catch the virus in the months ahead.”