The Ministry of Defence has been accused in a highly critical parliamentary report of ignoring manufacturers’ warnings of the risks in using the controversial anti-malarial drug, Lariam, leaving, as a result, servicemen and women to face severe side-effects.
The help subsequently provided by the MoD to those who were affected by the drug was inadequate and the system of duty-of-care needed to be overhauled, the Commons Defence Committee has stated.
The Independent had revealed that the report by the Defence Select Committee was to call for Lariam to be banned except in very restricted circumstances. The MoD now faces legal action from hundreds of victims in the military, many of whom say that their lives have been shattered by being given Lariam.
Dr Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Committee, pointed out that the high-risk of taking the drug had been highlighted by its makers, Roche, who had laid down stringent conditions for its use. But, he continued : “ …Such conditions have often been disregarded in dispensing it to large numbers of troops about to be deployed. It seems quite clear that not only is the MoD unable to follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for prescribing the drug in all instances, but a number of troops discard their Lariam rather than risk its potentially dangerous side-effects.”
“It is our firm conclusion that there is neither the need, nor any justification for continuing to issue this medication to Service personnel unless they can be individually assessed in accordance with the manufacturers’ requirements. And – most of the time – –that is simply impossible, when a sudden, mass deployment of hundreds of troops is necessary.”
The report strongly recommended that Lariam should only be prescribed under strict stipulations. It should only be given to those who cannot tolerate alternative medication, only after a choice has been offered between drugs and then only after a face-to-face risk assessment had been carried out.
A number of senior officers welcomed the report. General Lord Richards, who had raised concerns about Lariam when he was the head of the British military, said “This is an issue of utmost seriousness and all the measures necessary should be taken as soon as possible. Concerns about Lariam has been long time, we know people who have been affected by it. So there should be no further delay.”
There were also calls for an investigation into the handling of the issue by the MoD. Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Marriott, of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, was prescribed Lariam before going to Sierra Leone to train the country’s troops in 2003. He was told that there may be side effects, but that these would be temporary. Instead he has suffered severe long-term problems including recurring nightmares.
Lt Col Marriott, who left the Army in 2008, said: “There have been years of representations about this to the MoD by lots of people, including me. In that time they have been in deliberate denial, continuing to insist that the risks were somehow exaggerated. Assurances were made which were not kept; letters were lost inside the MoD. And, all the time, they kept giving out Lariam to service personnel. All this needs to be looked into.”
The Defence Committee said that although the MoD accepted its duty of care towards personnel who suffered Lariam side-effects, the “current arrangements for doing so appear to be inadequate”. It recommended that there should be a single point of contact for those who feel they have been affected and “this point of contact should be publicised widely though the Chain of Command, veterans organisations, the MoD website, and armed forces magazines and publications. Discussions should also be held with the Department of Heath on possible ways of advising GPs of potential risks to veterans who may previously have been prescribed Lariam..”
The law firm Hilary Meredith Solicitors say they have already been contacted by 470 former military personnel prescribed Lariam who have suffered from a range of side effects including hallucinations, severe depression, sleep deprivation and anxiety. Another firm, Irwin Mitchell, say they have received more than 30 approaches from people affected by taking the medication.
Kevin Timms, of Irwin Mitchell, said : “By accepting that they have used the drug outside of the manufacturer’s guidelines, the MoD has taken the first step to redressing military personnel concerns. We hope this is also the first step to the MOD working with us in a collaborative manner to resolve the complaints of the troops for whom we act.”
Philippa Tuckman, a partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors, who provided evidence to the Inquiry said: “While I would have preferred a total ban, this is a welcome and much needed recommendation. The Committee has also confirmed that the MoD has a duty of care in relation to the provision of drugs for service personnel abroad.
“Service personnel have a tendency to be so dedicated that they think only of the duty they owe; it doesn’t occur to them that it should go both ways. Sadly, the MoD will sometimes take advantage of that to get away with providing dramatically substandard care. That is not deliberate, but the catastrophic effect on the lives of our soldiers, sailors and airmen and women is the same as if it were.”
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies