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GPs given green light to issue antivirals at earliest point in ten years

GPs have been given the green light to start prescribing antiviral medicines due to an increase in influenza cases in the community, the earliest that such an alert has been issued in the last ten years.

The alert issued by the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) this week said prescribers 'may now supply antiviral medicines for the prophylaxis and treatment of influenza at NHS expense'.

This is the earliest since the swine flu outbreak in 2009/10, showing that flu season has come earlier than normal.

It comes as the latest PHE weekly flu statistics reported 190 new acute respiratory outbreaks within a week, 68 more than in the previous week.

The MHRA said 'antiviral medicines may be prescribed for patients in “clinical at-risk groups” as well as any who are at risk of severe illness and/or complications from influenza if not treated'.

The notice said: 'Surveillance data indicates an increase in influenza cases in the community. Prescribers may now prescribe and pharmacists may now supply antiviral medicines for the prophylaxis and treatment of influenza at NHS expense.

'This is in accordance with NICE guidance, and Schedule 2 to the National Health Service (General Medical Services Contracts (Prescription of drugs etc) Regulations 2004), commonly known as the Grey List or Selected List Scheme (SLS).'

In previous years, this notice has been issued in later December or early January.

Last year, practices in the south east of England were told to prescribe antivirals to 'well' patients in nursing homes to prevent flu, a move that caused uproar among GPs who said the process would be ‘enormously work intensive’ and the request had not been properly commissioned or resourced.

GP practices have been advised to 'only order vaccine needed for the forthcoming week and to avoid stockpiling', following delays to the flu nasal vaccine supply. 

PHE said GPs might have to vaccinate primary school children in high-risk groups as some schools will need to reschedule flu vaccination sessions.

Meanwhile, NHS Digital statistics published in September showed that coverage of all 13 childhood vaccinations fell over the last year.

(The previous picture on this story was wrong. Apologies for any confusion caused) 

Readers' comments (4)

  • Flu is coming the establishment is shi**ing itself.They have broken the NHS and here comes the breaking point.

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  • David Banner

    So we knew there was a nasty Aussie Flu coming down the pipe.
    Then we had huge delays in vaccine supplies arriving (yet again), meaning large numbers of cancelled clinics in October, and disgruntled patients deciding not to bother again.
    And A&E already overrun in Summer. IN SUMMER!!
    Antivirals are useless, a near placebo fig leaf, involve a huge amount of GP time (coming from where, precisely??), and are thrown at uninfected individuals who may then be diagnosed far too late as they have already been “treated”.
    TOTLights is right, this really could be the breaking point. I believe Australia is nice this time of year?

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  • This should of course be properly resourced and commissioned.

    Antivirals are not very useful for treating people with flu. IN most cases they get better perhaps half a day earlier than they would have done - if the antivirals are given relatively early in the illness. Not much of a gain.

    (There may be more benefits in people who get really ill and need to be admitted - these are probably people who fail to clear the virus as quickly as normal.)

    But what antivirals are really good at is reducing infectiousness. The quantity of virus in respiratory secretions, and the duration of viral excretion, are hugely reduced by antivirals.

    Now, that doesn't benefit the patient taking the antivirals directly. But it does considerably reduce the likelihood of their spreading it to others.

    The other thing that antivirals are OK at is preventing or reducing the severity of illness if they are given before the onset of symptoms.

    So... While I am NOT arguing that this should be part of a GP's work, there is a very good scientific case for providing antiviral chemoprophylaxis is institutional settings such as care homes.

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  • Great! I shall carry on with my usual practice, which is not to prescribe this bs pseudo-medicine, as per usual

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