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DHSC issues advice for GPs to prescribe antivirals for ‘at risk’ patients

GPs should prescribe antiviral medication for the prevention and treatment of flu in at-risk patients, according to a Government alert.

The announcement – which comes after a reported rise in flu cases – said that prescribers can now supply the medication at NHS expense.

The alert, published this week by the Department of Health and Social Care, 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.’

‘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,’ it continued.

The notice said this advice is in ‘accordance with NICE guidance, and Schedule 2 to the National Health Service’.

The latest influenza report, published weekly by Public Health England, reported 36 new acute respiratory outbreaks in one week, 31 of which were in care homes.

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

A major study, published in the Lancet, found that antiviral drug oseltamivir (tamiflu) reduces flu complications and hospitalisations, as well as symptoms, but these benefits could be outweighed side effects.

However, a Cochrane review found no evidence that oseltamivir reduced objectively measured pneumonia or hospitalisations from flu. This led the study authors to write to NICE and question its continued support for the use of antivirals.