The £653m spent on drugs to deal with a potential Bird Flu pandemic was ‘money thrown down the drain’, a damning report has found. The money was spent huge stockpiles of Tamiflu and Relenza, because of concerns in 2005 of a major outbreak.
The Telegraph claims that scientists warned the government that 700,000 Britons could die from bird flu, so the government responded by buying the drugs. The hope was they would reduce the effects of the virus, and keep as many people out of hospital as possible.
After the initial purchase, stocks were added to when the swine flu pandemic began in 2009.
The report looked at 46 trials, both published and unpublished, involving over 24,000 people. They found that the antivirals worked no better than remedies such as paracetamol. The researchers also claimed that vital information on the effectiveness of these drugs was deliberately withheld from regulators.
Whilst Tamiflu and Relenza were shown to shorten the symptoms of flu by half a day, this is no better than some over-the-counter drugs. However, the report also found Tamiflu had worrying side effects such as psychiatric and kidney problems.
The review was carried out by the independent, international research group, Cochrane, and was published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ).
Cochrane say that evidence given to the government about the effectiveness of these drugs was incomplete. They also said they had to battle for years with drug manufacturers Roche and GlaxoSmithKline to get the information needed to present a full picture.
One of the authors, Dr Carl Heneghan, from Oxford University, said: “The money spent has been thrown down the drain. There is no credible way these drugs could prevent a pandemic.”
A second author, Dr Tom Jefferson, said: “The evidence doesn’t justify stockpiling, we should stop it.”
Between 2006 and 2013 the Department of Health spent £609million on antiviral medicines, £473million on Tamiflu and £136million on Relenza. Including £74million written off because drugs had to be thrown away due to poor record keeping.