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Thursday, 14 October, 1999, 11:08 GMT 12:08 UK
Warning over 'rationed' mental health drugs
Crowd scene
Schizophrenia often strikes in adolescence or early adulthood
People with serious mental illnesses will not get the newest and most effective drugs because of government rationing, according to a leading charity.

Sane says draft guidelines produced by the British Psychological Society and the Royal College of Psychiatrists for the Department of Health state that people who are diagnosed with schizophrenia should be given traditional anti-psychotic drugs instead of newer treatments.

The guidelines will go to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) which will decide on access to the drugs.

Mental Health
Sane says the newer treatments are more effective and have fewer of the embarrassing side effects, such as shaking and facial tics.

These side effects are often confused with the illness themselves and add to the stigma surrounding it, says Sane.

According to the charity, only people who have failed to respond to the old drugs or had developed severe side effects to them would get the newer drugs.

Academics versus users

Sane believes the decision is based on limited evidence.

The National Schizophrenia Fellowship (NSF) says Nice should not be swayed by an academic report which claims there is little difference between older and newer drugs.

Chief executive Cliff Prior said: "Academics do not have to spend a lifetime on these dirty old drugs with their nasty side effects.

"Nice and Alan Milburn [the new Health Secretary] must listen to people who do. These people are telling us they want choice.

"They want to see doctors who are willing to discuss the available treatments and who are free to prescribe the best and not just the cheapest."

The NSF says the expert group advising Nice did not consult organisations representing people with schizophrenia.

It also claims to have evidence that at least one health trust is rationing newer treatments on the basis of cost.

The newer treatments cost around 2,000 a year per person, compared with 98 per person for the older ones.

A spokeswoman for Sane said: "It costs 1,000 for just one dose of chemotherapy. This is about quality of life, choice and freedom."

'Limited research'

Marjorie Wallace, chief executive of Sane, said: "What concerns us is that the research is so narrow that it cannot form the basis for humane guidelines.

"The underlying agenda appears to have more to do with the extra cost of the new drugs than the welfare of those who take them."

She added: "It is tragic that people should be offered as first line treatment the older, cheaper drugs which have side effects often more stigmatising and distressing than those caused by the newer drugs.

"This can lead patients to a destructive cycle whereby they come to reject all medical help."

Mental health charity Mind also argues that patients should have increased rights to the most effective healthcare.

Its recent report, Mind the Law, calls for greater choice for the mentally ill over drug treatments and care.

The charity hopes these rights will be included in a forthcoming review of mental health legislation.

BBC Social Affairs Editor Niall Dickson: "The old drugs are not popular"
Chief Executive of the National Schizophrenia Fellowship Cliff Prior: "This is beggars belief"
See also:

13 Oct 99 | Health
Mentally ill 'need more rights'
13 Oct 99 | Health
Mental health up close
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