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DH permits antiviral treatment for flu after spike in cases

Tamiflu can now be dispensed for flu treatment and prophylaxis
Tamiflu can now be dispensed for flu treatment and prophylaxis

Pharmacists in England and Wales can dispense antiviral medicines to treat flu under the NHS, after an increase in GP consultations for the illness.

In a Chief Medical Officer alert issued on December 31, the Department of Health and Social Care said “surveillance data” had indicated an increase in the number of flu cases in the community.

As a result, pharmacists may now dispense oseltamivir (Tamiflu) and zanamivir (Relenza) to patients “at NHS expense”. This applies to patients in at-risk groups, or those who would be “at risk of severe illness and/or complications from influenza if not treated”.

According to Public Health England, the overall rate of GP consultations for influenza-like illnesses in England was 9.4 per 100,000 of the population in the week ending December 23, an increase from 8.1 per 100,000 in the previous week.

PSNC: Ensure prescriptions are endorsed

In a note announcing the change, the Pharmaceutical Services Negotiating Committee (PSNC) highlighted that FP10 prescriptions, either written generically or by brand, must be endorsed correctly by prescribers under the selected list scheme (SLS) for pharmacies to be reimbursed for dispensing them.

If the SLS endorsement is missing, “the prescription should not be dispensed and will not be passed for payment by NHS Prescription Services”, PSNC said. “Pharmacy staff cannot make the SLS endorsement themselves,” it added.

Full details of patient eligibility are available on the SLS website.

Eligible patient groups

In guidance published in October 2015, the National Institute for health and Care Excellence (Nice) recommends that if the national surveillance scheme indicates “influenza is circulating”, oseltamivir or inhaled zanamivir should be prescribed to at-risk groups, specifically: patients aged 65 or over; pregnant women (or women up to two weeks post-partum); patients who are immunosuppressed through disease or treatment; and those who have one or more of the following:

  • chronic respiratory disease (including asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • chronic heart disease
  • chronic renal disease
  • chronic liver disease
  • chronic neurological conditions
  • diabetes
  • morbid obesity (a body mass index of 40 or more).

Nice also suggests oral oseltamivir if a patient is not in an at-risk group, “but it is felt that they are at risk of developing a serious complication from influenza”.

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