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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 16:48 GMT 17:48 UK


Do we really need Relenza?

BBC Doctor Colin Thomas says the NHS cannot provide flu drugs

Advances in science and medicine are always going to produce new drugs, and because the drug companies have to spend so much on development, inevitably the cost of such drugs will be high.

Relenza, the newest drug to hit the headlines, has been claimed to reduce the length and severity of influenza infections if given soon enough.

Do we really want to take drugs to get rid of flu? Or if so, do we really want the NHS to pay through the nose for them?

Wake up! There is only a limited amount of money for the National Health Service, and even if you spent twice as much on the service there would still be gaps in the treatments and services that it could provide.

If you want to continue a sensible service then you must start looking not only at clinical effectiveness of drugs, but the cost benefit analysis of providing the service or treatment.

If a drug cure for baldness was invented -should this be on the NHS?

There is no doubt that lack of hair can be a serious psychological issue for many people, but would it really be justified on the NHS - I think not.

But we are beginning to develop a blurred line between therapeutic advancements and 'nice to have drugs' like impotence treatments.

Be clear: the government aren't necessarily saying 'you can't have these treatments', only that if you want them you must pay for them.

A no frills service

I think this is a message that patients would understand. The NHS provides the 'no frills' good honest down to earth treatments, but the 'frilly bits' cost extra - a bit like when you order your new car.

If you allow such treatments on the NHS then inevitably you will be diverting much needed funds away from more needy causes such as cancer patients or children requiring life saving bone marrow transplants.

It seems to me that everyone these days has difficulty accepting that some things we have to get over naturally.

The problem is that doctors are seen to be increasingly able to 'cure everything' and I'm sure that there would be a huge demand for a flu treatment especially if it is free.

Imagine GP surgeries filled up with patients wanting flu treatment on top of the usual winter burden - your doctor would be inundated with patients, and I'm afraid that is the time that the really sick and needy people can be lost under a tide of appointments.

So more power to your elbow Frank Dobson and his NICE team - hold your nerve, because the next expensive 'nice to have' therapy is only just around the corner.

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