GPs can start prescribing antiviral treatments for flu on the NHS in high-risk patients, the Department of Health has announced.
The advice comes as a result of latest flu surveillance data showing it is highly likely anyone presenting with flu symptoms has an influenza virus, while flu vaccination uptake has dipped slightly among the over-65s and pregnant women.
It means GPs can now give oseltamivir (Tamiflu) or zanamivir (Relenza) to the usual clinical at-risk groups, or anyone else considered particularly at risk of complications if they do not receive treatment.
A letter from the DH chief medical officer, Professor Dame Sally Davies, and the chief pharmaceutical officer, Dr Keith Ridge, reminds GPs and other prescribers to endorse prescriptions for either drug with the reference ‘SLS’ and not to over-order stocks to prevent shortages in the supply chain.
Although the letter says flu vaccination uptake is at similar levels as last year, it urges GPs to continue to try to increase coverage.
It says: ‘There is still time to vaccinate those in risk groups who have not yet been vaccinated. It is important for GP practices and other health professionals to continue to strive towards achieving high uptake of the seasonal flu vaccine among relevant patients and their own frontline healthcare workers.’
Dame Sally said in a statement: ‘The NHS is well prepared for an increase in winter related health problems, including flu.
‘Just over half of under 65s who are most at risk from flu, including children, have already had the flu jab. We urge patients who are most at risk from flu and who have not yet had their vaccine to contact their GP as soon as possible.
‘As levels of flu have started to increase, we have recommended that GPs should use antivirals to treat and prevent flu in people who are most at risk from flu. The use of antivirals is recommended each year when flu is considered to be circulating in the community.’