By Dr Ben Goldacre
Tamiflu is supposed to be the miracle flu drug. Patients across the UK rely on it. In medicine cupboards everywhere patients have eagerly stockpiled it, and in some winters there has even been talk of rationing.
The Government itself has spent £500 million on stockpiling the drug to keep the country from collapse in the wake of a bird-flu epidemic, since it’s supposed to reduce the risk of pneumonia and death.
And yet for all we know, Tamiflu might be no better than paracetamol: because Roche, the company making it, still withholds vital information on the risks and benefits from researchers, doctors and patients.
As a result, we doctors are prescribing the pills in the dark, exposing patients to possible harm and potentially wasting vast quantities of public money.
But that is just the beginning. Because, amazingly, there is nothing illegal about what Roche has done, and there is nothing unusual about it either. Patients throughout the UK may be suffering – on a scale we are only just beginning to comprehend – because of a vast, ongoing ethical scandal in medicine.