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Tuesday, 5 June, 2001, 23:44 GMT 00:44 UK
Couple win Alzheimer's fight
Barbara and Thomas Woodward
Postcode prescription: Woodwards were denied free drugs
An elderly couple have won their battle to get Alzheimer's drugs free on the NHS.

The case of Thomas and Barbara Woodward sparked concern that the government had failed in its attempts to end so-called postcode prescribing.

When the couple lived in Swindon, Mrs Woodward, who has Alzheimer's, was prescribed the drug Aricept free on the NHS.

However, when the couple moved to Northampton last year Mr Woodward was told that they would have to pay 165 a month to obtain the drug privately.

Mr Woodward, 84, said he could not afford the cost and feared that without Aricept his wife's condition would deteriorate rapidly.


New guidelines have been distributed

John Rom
However after widespread publicity about the case, Northampton Healthcare Trust said new guidelines had been introduced which would make the drug freely available on to those who needed it.

That included people moving into the area who had been receiving Aricept at their previous address.

Apology

The Woodwards were summoned to an unexpected meeting with a hospital specialist just 24 hours after publicity broke about the case.


It costs far more to care for people in hospital than to give them the tablets to keep them in their own home

Thomas Woodward
John Rom, chief executive of Northampton Healthcare Trust, apologised for the misunderstanding and said it should have been made clear to the family that they were eligible.

He added: "I don't believe Mr and Mrs Woodward have anything to worry about.

"The situation, as I understand it, has been resolved. They will get the treatment they need."

Mr Woodward said he was relieved and pleased but questioned what would have happened without the publicity.

He said: "It's not just us in this situation - it's happening to people all across the country. It doesn't make sense.

"It costs far more to care for people in hospital than to give them the tablets to keep them in their own home."

1000-a-year

In January the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) said Aricept and two other Alzheimer's drugs should be available on the NHS.

Aricept costs around 1,000 a year. It is not a cure for Alzheimer's but slows down the progress of the illness in about half the patients who receive it.

For some 10% of people there is a dramatic improvement.

Just 24 hours after the case became public last week Health Secretary Alan Milburn said health authorities would be directed to pay for Aricept.

Mr Milburn told the BBC: "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."

Mrs Woodward was previously treated by Dr Roger Bullock, a consultant in old age psychiatry at Victoria Hospital in Swindon.

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."

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See also:

30 May 01 | Health
Minister steps into drugs row
20 Dec 00 | A-B
Alzheimer's disease
24 Apr 01 | Health
10-minute test for Alzheimer's
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