Lariam

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:18 pm on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Madeleine Moon Madeleine Moon Chair, Defence Sub-Committee 3:18 pm, 27th October 2016

If I am perfectly honest, no. I think that the medical care that is offered continues to fall short, but I hope that the Committee will be able to address the issue again in future and ask for further updates. Of course, we have the opportunity to hear from the Minister today what further progress has been made.

Alongside our findings about the ACMP, we looked at whether Lariam was appropriate to where personnel were sent and the work that they do. The Minister and the Surgeon General told us that geographical location was a consideration in prescribing Lariam. By contrast, other witnesses made it clear that there is nowhere where Lariam should be the preferred drug, particularly given that there is increasing resistance to it and there are alternatives available. Geography aside, and linked to our earlier concerns about the ACMP advice, we sought to clarify whether Lariam, given the known side effects, was appropriate at all in a military setting. A military deployment is a world away from a tourist sightseeing or sitting by a pool. The physical and mental strain of being deployed in stressful situations does not need to be exacerbated by the severe side effects that Lariam can induce.

Dr Nevin gave evidence of an alarming potential negative impact on military performance and operations. There were cases of service personnel experiencing

“episodes of panic resulting in abnormal behaviour” and incidents of servicemen becoming confused and being found “wandering aimlessly”. There were incidents of tension and anger, episodes of severe mental and physical exhaustion and nausea, lapses of concentration and episodes of short-term memory loss, ill temper, dangerous driving, confusion and suicide ideation. That is a grim picture of medically induced problems for military personnel on deployment.

We explored whether other nations gave Lariam to their armed forces. Our research uncovered a mixed picture, but a tendency towards either no longer using Lariam at all or using it only as a drug of last resort. That all added weight to our recommendation that greater clarity is needed in determining when to use Lariam, and that attention should be paid to whether it is appropriate for military personnel.

At the heart of our inquiry was the question whether the MOD was fulfilling its duty of care by following the clear guidance on prescribing Lariam. Did every individual undergo the Roche-required individual medical assessment prior to deployment? Was it realistic to think that the MOD could ensure that that happened, particularly for a large-scale, short-notice deployment? Alarmingly, there was evidence that individual assessments were not happening. Lariam was included in pre-deployment kit; it was handed out on parade; or the MOD relied on an assessment of medical records only for prescription. We felt that that was a fundamental failure in duty of care. We concluded that, aside from the need to consider the practicalities of arranging assessments, prescribing Lariam should only ever be a last resort bounded by strict conditions. Linked to that, we uncovered concerns about non-reporting of contra-indications; military personnel appeared unwilling to admit to conditions such as a previous history of depression, because of fear of a negative impact on their career. That underlines even further the need for individual assessments.

Several witnesses reported that personnel were so concerned by the reputation of Lariam that they discarded their medication and were potentially left with no antimalarial protection at all. That came even from the very top. I believe Lord Dannatt has announced that he refused to take Lariam and would throw it away. We were deeply disturbed by that and recommended that the MOD should monitor compliance rates.