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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

    Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

    £90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

    Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

    £100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

    Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

    £45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

    Isis hostage crisis

    The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
    Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

    The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

    Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

    Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
    Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

    Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

    This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
    Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

    Cabbage is king again

    Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
    11 best winter skin treats

    Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

    Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
    Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

    Paul Scholes column

    The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
    Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

    Frank Warren's Ringside

    No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee