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Wednesday, 4 December, 2002, 00:03 GMT
Thousands denied schizophrenia drugs
Schizophrenia affects 400,000 Britons
Thousands of people with schizophrenia are being denied modern medicines on the NHS, according to campaigners.

A survey by the charity Rethink suggests many are still being given cheaper and unsuitable drugs.

This is despite a ruling by a government watchdog three months ago that so-called 'atypical' medicines should be available to all patients with the disease.


People with severe mental illness are still being treated like second class citizens

Paul Farmer, Rethink
It comes as the watchdog, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice), publishes guidelines aimed at stamping out variations in the medical care of these patients.

The Rethink survey suggests that one in five primary care trusts in England has yet to make these modern drugs available to patients.

Financial pressure

Many indicated that they are under financial pressure and are unable to fund the treatment.

The modern drugs have fewer side-effects but are 17 times more expensive than the older medicines.


Sadly, the guidelines on their own are dream-lists

Marjorie Wallace, Sane

Rethink called on the government to make more money available to ensure NHS bodies can pay for the treatment.

Paul Farmer, of Rethink, said: "People with severe mental illness are still being treated like second class citizens despite the Nice ruling that was supposed to ensure they were no longer forced to take cheap, unsuitable medicines.

"The government should pledge the case for full implementation without delay."

The findings come as Nice publishes its new clinical care guidelines for patients with schizophrenia.

The guidelines advise medical professionals on how to treat patients from initial diagnosis right through to the end of their treatment.

The recommendations will not override health professionals' judgement, but they will have to take them into account. They aim to stamp out variations in care across England and Wales.

Improve care

It is the first time Nice has published guidelines on the clinical care of a specific group of patients.

Further guidelines are being drawn up for patients in more than 30 different categories, including antenatal care, heart failure and depression.

Rethink says more government money would be needed if the guidelines are to make a difference.

Chief executive of Nice, Andrew Dillon, said the guidelines would help to improve care for people with schizophrenia on the NHS.

"For people with schizophrenia, their carers and the health professionals responsible for their care this guideline offers clear advice on what the NHS should provide," he said.

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of mental health charity Sane, said: "Sadly, the guidelines on their own are dream-lists which will be quickly eroded if the hospitals remain overcrowded and under-funded and the staff insufficiently trained to care for mentally ill people either on the wards or in their homes.

"We urge government to provide the investment needed to give them a chance of being implemented."

Shadow health spokesman Tim Loughton said: "This is another example of the government passing the buck for failing to provide adequate care for people with mental health problems."

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Gill Higgins
"There has been little consistency in how schizophrenics are treated"
Andrew Dillon, Institute for Clinical Excellence
"These guidelines pretty much cover all of the available treatment"
See also:

09 Sep 02 | Health
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