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EDITIONS
'Men should pay for baldness drug'
Men may have to pay for a new anti-baldness drug
A treatment for baldness should not be available on NHS prescription, the government has proposed.

Propecia has been shown to help the majority of men with so-called "male pattern balding" - the gradual thinning and disappearance of hair over the years.

However, the Department of Health estimated that supplying the drug to every man in the country who might want it would cost the NHS in the region of 32m a year.

It is set to rule that men suffering from male pattern baldness should have to pay for the drug through a private prescription.

Propecia is the second "lifestyle drug", after Viagra, to be restricted by the Department of Health.

Support groups for men with hair loss say that the issue, just like impotence, is a source of psychological trauma to men and should be taken more seriously.

Elizabeth Steel, founder and director of Hairline International, said: "It has been found that 70% of people with alopecia are prone to serious depression.

"And 40% reported that their doctors were either dismissive or unsympathetic."

No case for funding

And although Hairline International has previously said that baldness treatments should be available on the NHS, she conceded that it would be hard to make a case for funding of Propecia while drugs for more serious conditions like multiple sclerosis were restricted in some parts of the country.

Even the drug's makers, pharmaceutical giant Merck Sharp and Dohme, said that it thought the drug was inappropriate for NHS prescribing.

A spokesman said: "We have expressed our preference for Propecia to be made available on private prescription only."

The government proposals are the subject of a consultation exercise ending next month.

Propecia, which is available in tablet form, works by blocking the way the body gets rid of the sex hormone, testosterone.

By making the hormone stay in the body longer, it prevents further hair loss, and may encourage the growth of new hair.

However, it works only on male pattern baldness, and not on other causes of hair loss - and does not work on women who are losing their hair.

The Department of Health estimated that it would cost the NHS approximately 275 per person per year.

It is believed that 30% of men aged 18 and over could conceivably be helped by Propecia treatment.

See also:

25 Oct 99 | Health
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