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GPs 'bullied' into bulk prescribing flu medicine to whole care homes without necessary testing

Exclusive Practices in some areas of England are being ‘bullied’ into issuing antivirals to all residents of care homes as a precautionary measure, leading to GPs being called out to deal with side effects from patients who had not had flu symptoms in the first place.

Care homes demanded practices urgently issue bulk Tamiflu prescriptions, to be given to asymptomatic residents as a precautionary measure following flu outbreaks, on the request of Public Health England local leaders.

One local leader said practices felt they were ‘bullied’ into prescribing, and were unable to properly test for renal functions, check medical records or even ask the patients’ consent.

The GPC told Pulse the problem had arisen in both England and Wales and that the BMA had major concerns both about the clinical justification for the move and the impact on workload, and it has called for urgent meetings with PHE on the matter.

In one area, the instruction led to residents - most of whom were well and fully vaccinated - getting Tamiflu without their consent or undergoing necessary tests, with some suffering side effects that meant they needed follow-up visits from the GP.

The Department of Health (DH) gave GPs the go-ahead to prescribe antivirals at the end of last year, as circulating levels of flu started to increase, following a letter from Public Health England (PHE) director of health protection Dr Paul Cosford.

The PHE guidance also includes recommendations for ‘post-exposure prophylaxis’ with Tamiflu in people considered at risk of complications, who have not been effectively protected by vaccination, in line with 2008 NICE guidelines.

However, GP leaders said they had received complaints from GPs that practices had received faxes – often after 6.00 pm or during busy surgery hours when no staff were available – to request urgent prescriptions for large numbers of residents, in some cases before the DH authorisation to prescribe antivirals had been given, and without prior information about the plans around prophylaxis.

In some cases practices were simply instructed to fax through prescriptions, while in others they were asked to first contact the care home in order to identify the patients - both symptomatic and any asymptomatic contacts - and calculate the recommended doses of the drug, based on their most recent renal test results.

Dr Paul Roblin, chief executive at Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire LMC, said many cases in his area had happened before the DH had given GPs the green light to prescribe antivirals, and that some GPs had been ‘bullied’ into providing the prescriptions without checking patients’ records, or ensuring patients were able to give consent to treatment.

Dr Roblin said: ‘I’ve had a number of complaints from practices saying they were phoned up – often at a time when they had little capacity - and instructed to prescribe Tamiflu to a whole host of patients in care homes, which you can’t just do.

‘These were people who were well, it was being prescribed in a preventative fashion to patients just because there had been cases [of flu] in the home. You can’t just give it to a patient without explaining the benefits, and many of them are cognitively impaired.’

‘But practices felt bullied into it. One refused completely, but several complied, causing a lot of hassle to their existing surgeries. And then some ended up doing it badly because they just signed the prescriptions – you are meant to tailor the dose depending on kidney function, which they didn’t do because they didn’t have time to do it.’

As a result, Dr Roblin said, one very elderly woman was given Tamiflu despite her care plan stating she should not have treatment other than symptom relief, while in one care home five of 43 residents given Tamiflu had fallen ill the next day with diarrhoea and needed extra GP visits the next day.

Dr Roblin said PHE should take responsibility for prescribing Tamiflu to asymptomatic patients who have been vaccinated if this had been decided.

Dr Roblin said: ‘My view is that PHE should prescribe the medication, since they have investigated what is happening in the home and reached a prescribing conclusion according to their own guidelines.’

GPC negotiator Dr Dean Marshall confirmed to Pulse several areas had raised the issue and that the GPC was concerned about PHE shifting responsibility for prescribing antivirals in this way onto GPs.  

Dr Marshall said: ‘I’ve had a few other people reporting it as well, so this is becoming a bigger issue. We have put in a call to have a discussion with PHE and will be feeding back our concerns.

He added: ‘It doesn’t seem to be co-ordinated very well, with different processes in one area from another. We’ve had reports of out-of-hours organisations getting involved in it as well – this is about treating people are not ill, who have had the flu jab, and this is being dumped on out-of-hours who I imagine are already pretty busy at the moment.

‘It’s another example of bits of the NHS just dumping work on GPs, not working together with us to plan work, never mind the concerns about the clinical appropriateness of giving the drug.’

PHE were contacted for a statement but did not get back to Pulse in time for publication.

It comes as official figures found that the incidence of flu this week was the highest for three years.

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Readers' comments (19)

  • each GP who has been asked to prscribe this (whether they hve done it or not) should make a formal complaint in handling of this issue.
    ask for evidence on prescribing tamiflu
    are risks vs benefits discussed with each pt / family members?
    those GPs who have already prescribed tamiflu in the fashion mentioned above are at high risk of getting complaints including if my family member was prescribed without any discussion.
    care homes targetted to prevent avoidable admissions without any evidence

    this surely is criminal

    the care homes putting such pressures on GPs should be scrutinised by CQC for breaking pt-doctor trust asking for tamiflu for their residents without any consent.

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  • each GP who has been asked to prscribe this (whether they hve done it or not) should make a formal complaint in handling of this issue.
    ask for evidence on prescribing tamiflu
    are risks vs benefits discussed with each pt / family members?
    those GPs who have already prescribed tamiflu in the fashion mentioned above are at high risk of getting complaints including if my family member was prescribed without any discussion.
    care homes targetted to prevent avoidable admissions without any evidence

    this surely is criminal

    the care homes putting such pressures on GPs should be scrutinised by CQC for breaking pt-doctor trust asking for tamiflu for their residents without any consent.

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  • Vinci Ho

    It has to be a wider vision than narrowly minding on just within nursing homes.
    The nasal carriage of the flu virus by asymtomatic relatives(including children) who go to visit their loved ones in nursing/residential homes ,easily provides the prime source of virulence.
    Takes the point that flu vaccination does not work that well in debilitated elderly because of poor immune response(don't know whether science should develop a more 'potent' vaccine though?) but the overall vaccination programme should be fortified and reinforced.

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  • I am genuinely shocked that any GP would comply with such a request. If you sign the scrip then you are entirely responsible for the consequences, so should never do so unless you are sure it is the right medication for each individual patient. It wasn't even a request from another clinician directly involved in the patient's care - as is the case when a consultant advises on a scrip for a patient they've seen. It seems to me that everything thing was wrong with the requests to start with - clinically, morally and practically. No GP should give in to such bullying - put the patients first, not NHS administrators!

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  • I am genuinely shocked that any GP would comply with such a request. If you sign the scrip then you are entirely responsible for the consequences, so should never do so unless you are sure it is the right medication for each individual patient. It wasn't even a request from another clinician directly involved in the patient's care - as is the case when a consultant advises on a scrip for a patient they've seen. It seems to me that everything thing was wrong with the requests to start with - clinically, morally and practically. No GP should give in to such bullying - put the patients first, not NHS administrators!

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  • I am sure their insurance provider would be delighted to hear they are taking such a NEGLIGENT approach to the supply of medicines. This is NOT about payment for services - this is about responsible or, in this case, irresponsible, prescribing
    Prescribers need to "grow a pair" or give up their right to prescribe if they are going to allow it to be abused.

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  • Drachula

    Thank you everyone. I haven't been asked this season, but have in the past, usually from a very demanding care home manager. I will certainly not prescribe these dangerous drugs on any basis, as the evidence appears to be towards more harm than good. Certainly my clinical experience would confirm this.
    It is indeed negligent and contrary to patient centred practice to prescribe, and this would also be the case for the reduced viral shedding theory.

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  • unfortunately being patient cent red is interpreted by modern society as doing giving whatever is wanted by the masses.
    Everyone will perceive tamiful as a wonder drug for the flu. You can quote evidence all you like to the contrary but nobody will care.
    GPs unfortunately have become the dumping ground for everything. This is why this is happening and until GPs man up this kind of nonsense will carry on. there will be some GPs who prescribe this on the grounds of being patient centred. Omission of actions is likely to result in GMC referral. that is the other elephant in the room

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  • GPs who have complied with this without checking records/tailoring medication to individual needs and gaining consent is putting themselves at risk of negligence and deserve to be charged as such. Can't stand up to the bullies!! come off it.

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