Birmingham & Black Country

Swine flu drug policy criticised by Birmingham doctors

The government's reaction to a swine flu outbreak may have done "more harm than good" according to two doctors.

Dr Jacky Chambers and Dr Andrew Rouse helped deal with the first cases of swine flu in Birmingham in 2009.

In the journal Health and Place, they claim giving anti-viral drugs to healthy children as a preventive measure lacked scientific evidence.

The Department of Health said its new pandemic strategy published in November placed less emphasis on containment.

The outbreak of swine flu in 2009 started at Welford Primary School in Birmingham and within four days it had spread through five schools.

The report claims that giving antivirals like Tamiflu to healthy children as a preventive measure was never part of the plan before the epidemic and the decision lacked scientific evidence.

Dr Chambers said there were some "major ethical questions" about what they were asked to do.

The doctors felt advice they were issuing about not being able to contain the outbreak and the need to go to the next stage, the treatment phase, was ignored.

He said: "These were healthy children and also people didn't realise that if you took this drug, you could still get swine flu."

The doctors claim that the government relied on academic modellers to predict the progress of the disease rather than asking experts on the ground.

Dr Rouse said: "I do believe that they did more harm than good - I can't imagine that the special arrangements saved anybody's life or even saved a day of sickness."

The doctors said they fear that current government plans for a national public health service called Public Health England could make matters worse in future by making local health experts directly accountable to the Secretary of State for Health.

In a statement, the Department of Health said: "The new pandemic strategy emphasises the importance of local decision making in the initial response to a pandemic and places a greater emphasis on the rapid assessment of the nature and impact of the virus than its containment."

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