There are no plans to halt the prescription of Tamiflu to children in Northern Ireland despite new concerns being raised about its safety.
The Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety (DHSSPS) played down fears yesterday after researchers said children should not be given the anti-viral drug and called on the Government to have an urgent rethink of its current policy in the swine flu pandemic.
Their study found that Tamiflu caused vomiting in some children, which can lead to dehydration and complications.
And the drug had little or no effect on asthma flare-ups, ear infections or the likelihood of a youngster needing antibiotics.
Dr Carl Henegan, from the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford, said the current policy of giving Tamiflu for mild illness was an “inappropriate strategy”.
He added: “The downside of the harms outweigh the one-day reduction in symptomatic benefits.”
However, a spokesman from the DHSSPS said the system in place in Northern Ireland to deal with suspected cases of swine flu is different than in England and stressed that no-one is prescribed Tamiflu without a GP making a full clinical assessment beforehand, while the British Medical Association (BMA) in Northern Ireland has also moved to allay fears.
Dr Brian Dunn, chairman of the BMA (NI) General Practitioners Committee, said: “It has always been known that Tamiflu, like many prescribed drugs, has side effects.
“However, it is important to bear in mind that Northern Ireland is operating a different system to England where people can get the drug by ringing the swine flu helpline.
“In Northern Ireland, the GP has to prescribe Tamiflu which is done by a telephone consultation in which they weigh up the benefits of the drug against any side effects. GPs are extremely experienced and best placed to do this.
A spokesman from DHSSPS said: “In Northern Ireland, Tamiflu can only be obtained on prescription from a GP, who will have weighed up the benefits of the drug against potential adverse reactions.
“For many people, the symptoms of swine flu can be treated in the same way as a normal cold or seasonal flu.”