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Wednesday, 5 December, 2001, 14:51 GMT
Care homes dispense 'chemical cosh'
Care home
Thousands may be getting the wrong drugs
Prescriptions of powerful anti-psychotic drugs for older people are soaring, says an MP, who claims care homes are misusing them.

Liberal Democrat Paul Burstow says that many residents who do not need such drugs are being kept in a sedated state simply to make life easier for staff.

He has produced more evidence that some homes may be abusing their clients in this way.

One in 10 care home residents have some kind of psychotic symptom such as hallucinations or paranoid ideas.

However, previous research suggests that the number of residents actually given anti-psychotic drugs is nearer one in three.

Figures for 1999 and 2000, obtained by Mr Burstow, showed that, in just one year, there was a 70% increase in the use of one type of anti-psychotic medication for elderly patients.


Older people are the victims of a chemical cosh and it is getting worse.

Paul Burstow
This is partly due to the changeover to this more modern type of drug, but still represents an increase of almost 100,000 prescription items.

The report claims that at least 35,000 elderly people in nursing homes, and possibly 53,500 in residential homes are being given anti-psychotic medication inappropriately.

The drugs can only be justified when used on people with psychotic symptoms, as there is the chance of severe side-effects, and there is also the chance they will interfere with other drugs being taken.

Cocktail of drugs

Mr Burstow said: "Older people are the victims of a chemical cosh and it is getting worse.

"With serious shortages of specialist staff, and little chance of attracting more, care homes are turning to chemical cocktails to make residents easier to manage.

"Successive governments have failed to tackle this abuse. New research and prescribing guidelines are urgently needed, along with investment in specialist dementia training for staff."

Government plans

The government's National Service Framework for Older People does address the problem of inappropriate prescribing of such drugs in care homes.

It recommends reviewing of repeat prescriptions - and that doctors follow guidance on when to give anti-psychotics.

By next year, the framework says, all those over 75 should have their medication checked once every year - and every six months if they take four or more drugs.

See also:

16 Jul 99 | Health
What is long-term care?
19 Jul 99 | Health
Britain's ageing population
05 Mar 01 | Health
More care homes face closure
01 Sep 01 | Health
The elderly care crisis
05 Sep 01 | Health
Rules on 'hidden' medication
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