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.
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)