People would have died if government had not been so “precautionary” during swine flu outbreak, says former CMO

BMJ 2010; 341 doi: (Published 21 October 2010) Cite this as: BMJ 2010;341:c5950
  1. Nigel Hawkes
  1. 1London

Liam Donaldson, the former chief medical officer, has defended the last government’s handling of the swine flu pandemic, rebutting charges that GPs were overburdened with information or that their clinical judgment over the use of oseltamivir (Tamiflu) was over-ruled.

Giving evidence to the Select Committee on Science and Technology, which is investigating the scientific advice given during the pandemic, Professor Donaldson said the claim that GPs had been “bombed” with information was “a little unfair.” Decisions had to be taken fast, he said, and often on poor or inadequate evidence.

“On antivirals, the evidence base didn’t exist,” he said. “There was some evidence for normal seasonal flu, but not for pandemic flu. The issue was whether to be very precautionary. We knew some patients without underlying conditions were dying—not many, but we’re in the 21st century and we don’t want people to die if we can prevent it.

“The BMA view was to leave it …

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