BBC Homepage World Service Education
BBC Homepagelow graphics version | feedback | help
BBC News Online
 You are in: Health
Front Page 
UK Politics 
Background Briefings 
Medical notes 
Talking Point 
In Depth 

Tuesday, 29 May, 2001, 09:51 GMT 10:51 UK
Alzheimer's drugs row
Barbara and Thomas Woodward
The Woodwards have been denied free drugs
An 84-year-old man is being forced to make regular journeys of over 100 miles to pick up NHS drugs for his disabled wife.

The case once again raises concerns that the government's National Institute for Clinical Excellence has failed in its aim to end so-called postcode prescribing of drugs in the UK.

Leading doctors doctors are openly disagreeing with the Institute's medical assessments, while others are questioning its political independence.

If we had to pay for these tablets for my wife, it would be more than we get in our pension

Thomas Woodward
Thomas Woodward's wife Barbara suffers from the progressive brain condition Alzheimer's.

She has been prescribed the drug Aricept to control symptoms.

NICE ruled in January that Aricept, and two other Alzheimer's drugs, should be made freely available on the NHS.

And in Swindon, where the couple used to live, the drug is free.

However, the couple moved to Northampton to be closer to their daughter.

When Mr Woodward visited a local health centre to get more drugs for his wife he was told he must now pay 165 a month for the same tablets.

Mr Woodward cannot afford the cost and now fears that unless he continues to get the drug from Swindon his wife's condition will deteriorate rapidly.


He said: "In Swindon we got everything for free. As soon as we came here, the consultant wanted to charge 165 for 28 tablets. These were 5mg tablets, the 10mg tablets were 300.

we feel we and the NHS have an obligation to Mrs Woodward while she is still getting benefit from her treatment

Dr Roger Bullock
"It's not even a month's supply - only 28 days. They told us if we couldn't pay, we would have to continue to get our prescriptions from Swindon. I was shocked.

"We can't afford to pay 165 a month. If we had to pay for these tablets for my wife, it would be more than we get in our pension."

For now, Dr Roger Bullock, a consultant in old age psychiatry at Victoria Hospital in Swindon, is continuing to supply Mr Woodward with the medicine free.

He told the BBC Mrs Woodward had been responding well to Aricept for several years.

"If we stopped it there would be a two or three month decline back to where she would have been if she had not had the drug.

"She needs to keep on it while she is benefiting from it, or she will get ill again."

Dr Bullock said that the NHS does not spend enough on drugs for mental health.

"For 50 years there were no new treatments, and now we are getting new treatments we have got this gap in funding."

"Technically we are spending Wiltshire's money on Northampton, because we feel we and the NHS have an obligation to Mrs Woodward while she is still getting benefit from her treatment.

"I'm sure this is a breach of all sorts of NHS bureaucracy, but I believe in putting patients first."

Limited funds

A statement from Northampton Health Care Trust, which covers the Cheyne Walk Clinic where Mrs Woodward sought treatment after moving, said limited funds had been made available locally for Alzheimer's drugs.

Aricept had been prescribed to a "limited number of patients".

The statement said: "The trust is developing shared protocols, in conjunction with GPs, for the prescription of Aricept. This includes appropriate follow-up arrangements for assessment and monitoring of patients receiving the drug in accordance with the guidance.

"From April 1 2001, the Health Authority has agreed limited funding for drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease and this will be used based on clinical need and effectiveness."

It added that the Trust could not comment on individual cases.

Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "NICE has found that these drugs work and are affordable. There is no reason why a person with Alzheimer's who has been assessed for treatment should be paying privately.

"The Woodward case is powerful, but it is not unique. The Alzheimer's Society has been monitoring the situation since the NICE decision and we are still campaigning on this issue.

"The National Service Framework for Older People was published in March this year, and was supposed to end age discrimination. Clearly this has not been achieved."

A spokesperson for NICE said it was down to individual health authorities to decide whether to implement the institute's recommendations.

The Labour Party refused to comment.

Search BBC News Online

Advanced search options
Launch console
See also:

20 Dec 00 | A-B
Alzheimer's disease
24 Apr 01 | Health
10-minute test for Alzheimer's
Internet links:

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites

Links to more Health stories are at the foot of the page.

E-mail this story to a friend

Links to more Health stories