Tens of thousands 'fake swine flu symptoms' to stock up on Tamiflu

Supply of antiviral drugs dwarfs numbers who have contracted disease

Tens of thousands of people have faked swine flu symptoms to persuade the NHS to issue them with antiviral drugs, government data suggests.

The number of people given Tamiflu is seven times higher than the number suffering the virus, with official figures showing there were 30,000 new cases of swine flu in the week up to 4 August, yet 30,000 doses of the drug were given out on average each day for the same period.

It is feared that – unless the Government has seriously underestimated the scale of the epidemic – many of those prescribed Tamiflu are stockpiling it to be sure of having access to the powerful drug if and when they or members of their family contract the illness.

Others are thought to be using the service to get themselves signed off sick for seven days, rather than having to go to work, and in some cases it is suspected the prescriptions are being sold. The data supports concerns that controls against misuse of the drug – which can have serious side-effects – are ineffective. Patients wanting the antiviral drug simply have to contact the National Pandemic Flu Service and provide – or fake – a few basic details about their symptoms on the phone or over the internet.

Inquiries at the 19 NPFS centres, which were established to stop doctors becoming overwhelmed by the volume of swine flu patients, are assessed by staff who have limited training and are not required to have medical qualifications. Some are as young as 16.

"Either there are a lot more cases out there than the Health Protection Agency estimates, or tens of thousands who are not suffering H1N1 flu are ringing up, describing their 'symptoms', and getting antiviral treatment," said Nigel Hawkes, director of Straight Statistics, a pressure group which monitors Government statistics.

"Perhaps they all think they might have flu, or perhaps they think it might be nice to have some Tamiflu tucked away in the medicine cupboard for when they do get it," Mr Hawkes said.

Professor Steve Field, chairman of the Royal College of General Practitioners, agreed there is a discrepancy between the number of patients and prescriptions: "Some people will be stockpiling in case they get influenza and will be making up things to get it," he said.

"Some will be getting it so they can take it on holiday, in case they get influenza while away. Some – I have no doubt – will be trying to sell it. I would hope and imagine that will be a small proportion."

But he said the system as a whole is working well, and it is better to accept an element of abuse of the system, than have every swine flu patient going to a GP – which would put intolerable pressure on surgeries.

"We need the patients and the public to treat the system with respect, and understand its limitations," he said. "The discrepancy in the figures is something we need to tolerate."

The HPA reported a dramatic fall in the number of people with swine flu symptoms consulting GPs last week, from 110,000 the previous week to 30,000. However, data from the NPFS suggests between 20,000 and 40,000 doses of Tamiflu were given out a day over the same seven-day period – equal to a seven-fold discrepancy.

The side-effects of taking Tamiflu may include vomiting and diarrhoea, heart and eye conditions, psychiatric problems and nervous disorders.

A recent study indicated the side effects are particularly noticeable in children, with more than half taking the drug suffering nausea, nightmares and other unwelcome reactions.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said: "It may be the case that a number of the people who were diagnosed at the end of the previous week picked up their antiviral at a time when this week's figures were being counted.

"It's also worth bearing in mind that, as the HPA figures show, the number of cases could be as many as 85,000. And there will be some people who have flu-like symptoms, who pick up antivirals but don't have swine flu."

National stocks of Tamiflu are thought to be sufficient for the outbreak, with the Government having previously stockpiled enough of the drug for 50 per cent of the population. Earlier this year it was decided to increase this figure to 80 per cent.

While the number of people going down with swine flu has fallen off in recent days a second and more serious wave of the illness is expected to sweep the country in October and November.

Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £25,000

    £13000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to be part of a ...

    Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

    £19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

    Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

    £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

    Recruitment Genius: Developer

    £30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Day In a Page

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
    Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

    Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
    Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

    Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

    Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
    Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

    Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

    The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
    Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

    Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

    His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

    Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

    Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future