NICE chair Professor Sir Michael Rawlins sharply rebutted claims that ministers had influenced its decisions.

He said: 'There have been claims, from some quarters, that our advice is subject to political and official interference. There has, however, been no overt, or covert, attempt by ministers or officials to influence our guidance. And we have received no 'guidance from ministers about available resources' Although the secretary of state does have reserve powers, if we were 'to lose the plot' we have never had a 'steer' formally or informally, about the nature of the guidance we should give.'

He reiterated this point when HSJ asked him if there was any truth in suggestions that NICE had been leant on by ministers and the pharmaceutical industry to approve Relenza. He also said he did not agree with the arguments about the clinical effectiveness of amantadine, an alternative drug for the treatment of influenza A, which had 'been around for 25 years' and had not been used widely by GPs.