Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 11:15 GMT 12:15 UK
Anti-flu drug rejected for NHS use
The new drug costs £24 a time
Patients will not be able to get a revolutionary anti-flu drug on the NHS, according to drug industry sources.
Relenza - a powder-spray inhaled through the mouth - is produced by the Glaxo Wellcome company.
And the company, which could take legal action over the decision, is said to be infuriated by the move.
The drug is said to reduce the length and severity of flu if taken at the right time.
But at £24 a time, there are fears it could overwhelm local NHS budgets.
The company can appeal against the recommendation, and a spokesman said discussions were continuing.
Relenza is already available in New Zealand and Australia, and is due to be launched in Germany on Friday.
If he accepts the institute's recommendation, he could face accusations of rationing. But if he rejects the finding, he could damage the credibility of a body he created.
The decision is seen as the first big test of the institute, which wants more information before it will recommend the drug.
There were indications a month ago that there could be trouble ahead over the new drug.
Government advisors warned that it could cost the NHS approximately £115m if there is a flu epidemic.
The National Prescribing Centre said in a bulletin to health service managers that Relenza could "increase expectation dramatically".
Doctors' organisations have also warned about the dangers posed by the drug.
During the last flu epidemic, in the winter of 1989/90, 600 people in every 100,000 went to see their doctor with flu.
And it is feared that many more people will visit their GPs to demand the new treatment if it is available on the NHS.
Dr George Rae, chairman of the British Medical Association's GP's prescribing committee, said: "What we would hope is that the government will now alleviate the concerns that GPs have about Relenza.
"There could be a huge impact on GP's workload if it was freely available, as patients have to be seen within the first two days."
A NICE spokesman said that its recommendation would be made public in the next month.