Ministry of Defence response to anti-malarial drug report “fails to acknowledge lamentable failures of the past”

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A partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors has accused the Government of failing to face up to its failures in its response to a House of Commons Defence Committee report on Lariam, the controversial anti-malarial drug administered to armed forces personnel.

The report, An acceptable risk? The use of Lariam for military personnel, has recommended the end of the use of Lariam for the UK’s armed forces, except in very restricted cases, and has strongly criticised the MoD’s use of the drug in the past.

Lariam is one of a number of anti-malarial drugs used by the Ministry of Defence to protect military personnel against malaria. Some former service personnel who were prescribed the drug and suffered from a range of mental health issues and neuropsychiatric side-effects, including hallucinations, severe depression, seizures, sleep disturbances and anxiety.

In its response, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) said that the drug would now only be prescribed to service personnel after a face-to-face check-up.

However, Philippa Tuckman, a military negligence specialist and partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors who provided evidence to the Inquiry, said that she was disappointed by the Government’s treatment of the study.

“As well as apparently refusing to commit to using Lariam only as a drug of last resort, the MoD’s response neither acknowledges the lamentable failings of the past nor reassures about the future,” she said.

“The Committee made very strong criticisms of the unsafe ways in which Lariam has been administered in the past – but the MoD has simply not addressed those criticisms. This is particularly surprising in view of the recent admission by General Lord Dannatt that the MoD did not take charge of the problems presented by Lariam.

“I am not at all confident that the MoD is going to work with the servicemen and women who have been injured to ensure they receive the help and support they need.”

Hilary Meredith Solicitors has called for the MoD to guaranteed that individuals are told that Lariam is associated with neuropsychiatric problems such as depression, sleeplessness, suicidal thoughts, strange dreams and fits. The firm also wants service personnel to be advised that if they experience any symptoms then they must get medical advice on an alternative before the next dose is due. It also wants them to be properly assessed before they are told to take the drug.

“The MoD is still reserving the right to use written records to check for reasons not to prescribe,” added Tuckman.

“There’s no way this single method can be completely reliable. Problems that have arisen since the person’s last attendance, for example, will not be included. In addition, issues such as nightmares, which members of the services may not have attributed to their Lariam doses, may never have been reported or recorded.

“In short, there is still a failure to face up to the problems either of the past or in the future. I fear it is a deliberate attempt to deny our former service men and women the support they need and deserve.”

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Marek Handzel

Marek Handzel is the editor of Claims Magazine. Marek welcomes articles, letters, or feedback from readers and can be reached by emailing marek.handzel@barkerbrooks.co.uk