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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March, 2005, 17:10 GMT
Alzheimer's drug cuts challenged
Elderly man
The drugs cost around 2.50 per patient per day
Plans to withdraw four key drugs used to treat Alzheimer's disease from the NHS have been met with opposition from government ministers.

Aricept, Exelon, Reminyl and Ebixa are the only drugs licensed in Britain for the treatment of the disease.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence, in its draft guidance, said the drugs were not cost-effective.

But health minister Stephen Ladyman told the Observer Nice needs to look at the wider impact of its decision.

The drugs, which campaigners estimate cost 2.50 per day per patient, improve memory and can make daily living tasks easier.

The plans have sparked outrage from campaigners, who say they will adversely affect thousands of people with dementia and could discourage further research into the area.

Respect for Nice

Nice has already stated that patients already taking the drugs would not have them withdrawn.

It added that it was only draft guidance at present and patients would not be affected until the final decision in July when the consultation had been finished.

A Department of Health spokesperson said: "The government respects the independence of Nice.

"However, in view of the public concern over the draft proposals, the government will want to ensure that all aspects have been fully considered."

He said the Department of Health will be asking Nice if it has taken into account "the wider social implications of not approving the drugs' use, especially the benefits and costs to carers as well as patients".

Mr Ladyman said his department will submit a report in the coming week emphasising the benefits of the drugs.

'Baffling' decision

"It may well be that once they [Nice] have looked at the extra evidence, they will come to a different decision," Mr Ladyman told the Observer.

He added that Nice needs to assess the impact its plans would have on families.

"If you have someone in your family who has a form of dementia and you have drugs which do work, then you are going to find this decision a bit baffling," he said.

The Observer report said MPs have been inundated with letters and calls from constituents concerned about the plans.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: "We are worried that people with dementia and their carers believe that Nice has changed its mind already but this is premature.

"The consultation is still going ahead and we are encouraging anyone affected by Nice's guidance to contact them to tell them how important these drugs are."

That view was echoed by Rebecca Wood, of the Alzheimer's Research Trust, who said: "It is crucial for the public to keep up the pressure on Nice to reverse its draft recommendations.

"The Alzheimer's Research Trust strongly believe that all of these drugs, which are proven to work and cost only 2.50 a day per patient, should be available to NHS patients."

Concerns over Alzheimer's drug
18 Feb 05 |  Health
Alzheimer's disease
08 Jan 04 |  Medical notes

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