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Wednesday, 30 May, 2001, 09:53 GMT 10:53 UK
Minister steps into drugs row
Barbara and Thomas Woodward
The Woodwards have been denied free drugs
Health Secretary Alan Milburn has reaffirmed that Alzheimer's drugs will be made widely available to all in the wake of a row over a pensioner's desperate battle for drugs for his wife.

His comments come after the news that 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.

Mr Milburn told the BBC that Labour would ensure that in future that health authorities provided the funding for the drugs and that things were getting better not worse for the elderly under Labour.

"We have got new Alzheimer's drugs which are being made widely available.

"In future we will ensure that they are available in every area by directing health authorities to provide funding for them."

In future we will ensure that they are available in every area by directing health authorities to provide funding for them

Health Secretary Alan Milburn

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.

In Swindon, where the couple used to live, the drug is free, but they 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.

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.

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