Tamiflu drug bill 'shocking waste of taxpayers' money'

Image caption The antiviral drug is designed to ease flu symptoms

The government spent £424m stockpiling a drug to treat flu despite there being question marks over the effectiveness of the medicine called Tamiflu, a public spending watchdog has found.

The National Audit Office (NAO) report reveals how much taxpayers' money was wasted.

Of the 40 million units of Tamiflu bought, a quarter were written off.

Some 6.5m units of the drug had to be binned because of storage problems - a mistake that cost £74m.

The Department of Health said it would consider the points made by the NAO.

Swine flu strategy

The NAO began investigating after a number of MPs raised concerns about the decision to stockpile the antiviral drug Tamiflu (oseltamivir).

The drug was a major part of the government's response to containing the swine flu epidemic that spread quickly around the world in 2009.

Although Tamiflu speeds up recovery times, experts do not agree over its ability to reduce complications and hospitalisations.

Between 2006-07 and 2012-13, the Department of Health purchased just under 40 million units of Tamiflu.

Between 2009-10 and 2012-13, 2.4 million units were consumed, mostly during the swine flu pandemic.

In total, 10 million units were written off - 6.5m units were discarded before their shelf lives had run out because poor record-keeping by the NHS meant it was impossible to tell if they had been stored correctly and were still useable.

Public Accounts committee chairwoman Margaret Hodge said taxpayers' money had been squandered and that there was "simply no excuse for this waste".

She said: "It is essential, not only for the public purse, but for public safety, that the Department of Health carefully examine how it stockpiles medicines in the future."

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The UK is recognised by the World Health Organization as being one of the best prepared in the world for a potential flu pandemic.

"We currently hold a stockpile of antivirals for use in the event of a flu pandemic. Tamiflu is the main antiviral in stock and a separate antiviral is also held as a contingency. We regularly review this stockpile and our plans for responding to a flu pandemic and we will consider the recommendations of the NAO report."

Additional stocks of Tamiflu are due to reach their end of shelf lives and be replaced during 2013-14 at a cost of £49 million.

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