The Government should not be blamed for the Tamiflu scandal

The 'buy or not to buy' decision had to do with politics and public morale, as well as medical efficacy

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I harbour as many misgivings as anyone about university research sponsored by pharmaceutical companies (or any commercial interest), however many academics insist that their results are not swayed. And it is, of course, a national scandal if the government of the day squandered millions of pounds on a much-promoted anti-flu drug that actually had little or no effect and would have been next to useless in turning back a pandemic.

If you think back to 2009, though, it should be evident that the Government's judgement - to buy, or not to buy - had not only to do with medical efficacy. It had equally to do with politics and public morale. Even if the shortcomings of the two drugs concerned, Tamiflu and Relenza, had been made known at the time, how likely is it that a fearful public would have dropped its clamour for a remedy and settled instead for a supermarket pack of paracetamol?

As I recall, there was what seemed to be cut-throat international competition to get hold of the limited stocks of Tamiflu, and even - because what was available was deemed insufficient - an official national pecking order for the precious prescriptions. It would, of course, have been prudent for ministers and their civil servants to scrutinise the data on those drugs, to request that all the research be opened up and have their specialists comb through to establish what has now been established by independent researchers from the Cochrane Collaboration. But then? Would the Government not have been accused of unethical penny-pinching that could cost many lives?

The last government can be blamed for much, but not, I think, for trying to quell an incipient national panic about the supposedly worst flu pandemic since 1919. Time and public confidence were of the essence.

Mo Farah, Marathon man

Watching the London Marathon, if only on television, is a highlight of my non-sporting year. This Sunday's may be the 34th such London event, and it may be hard to glimpse the runners in the final stretch behind all the sponsors' banners, but I still marvel at the organisation behind it, the spirit of the spectators, and most of all at how many thousands manage to train and run, raising enormous sums for good causes on the way. This year's Marathon will have added star power, thanks to the 2012 Olympics super-hero, Mo Farah. All the very British hype surrounding him prompts qualms, but at least we know that he's not an athlete who lets home-crowd pressure get to him. Here's wishing him Godspeed.

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