Lariam

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:20 pm on 27th October 2016.

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Photo of Mark Lancaster Mark Lancaster The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Defence 4:20 pm, 27th October 2016

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell.

We seem to have had something of a flurry of detailed questions towards the end of the debate, giving me little opportunity to address many of them in the nine minutes I have to respond to the debate. I will do my best, but at the start I simply commit to writing to any hon. Member whose question I do not manage to answer during that time.

Of course, I begin by taking this opportunity to thank the Defence Committee for its very thorough report on the use of mefloquine by service personnel, and I also thank the hon. Members who have spoken today, from the opening contribution by Mrs Moon onwards. I will address many of the points that were made as I go through, but on a specific point that she made, I absolutely regret the publication of the statistics on the day of the Committee hearing. However, she may not be aware that it is absolutely right that Ministers have no control over the collection or publication of statistics; it would be wrong if we did. So it was genuinely an unfortunate coincidence, and it would have been even worse if the statistics had been published the day afterwards.

I thank my hon. Friend Johnny Mercer for his passionate contribution, not least because every time he speaks in this House he seems to suggest that I should be promoted—so I thank him very much indeed. I also thank my hon. Friend Jeremy Lefroy, who gave an incredibly incisive personal account; it really was very powerful. Of course, I also thank my right hon. Friend Dr Lewis, who asked a number of questions, which I will endeavour to answer during my response to the debate.

We had other good contributions from the hon. Members for Leeds North East (Fabian Hamilton), who has had to leave us, for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady), and for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald). I will endeavour to address all the points that they made in due course.

The Government have considered our conclusions carefully, and I will outline the positive steps that the Ministry of Defence is taking to address the Committee’s recommendations. Before I do so, I want to nail one issue that floated around towards the end of the debate—that Lariam is somehow the MOD’s drug of first choice, and that cost is a factor in its use. According to the “British National Formulary” of March 2015, Lariam, at £14.53 for an eight-week supply, is more expensive than Paludrine/Avloclor, less expensive than Malarone but more expensive than doxycycline. So cost is not a factor, and we would never prescribe on the basis of cost alone.

Equally, mefloquine currently constitutes only 1.2% of all the antimalarial tablets held by the MOD, and in terms of doses for a six-month deployment—of course, doses for different drugs are given at different rates—it accounts for just 14% of the stock. So 86% of our stock is not Lariam. That hardly represents a reliance on Lariam or evidence that it is being used as a drug of first choice.