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Sunday, 30 July, 2000, 23:49 GMT 00:49 UK
Carers secretly give drugs to patients
Pills
Some patients do not take their medication
Carers are secretly giving medication to patients by putting drugs in their food, researchers have found.

A study carried out in London found three-quarters of carers who looked after patients with dementia gave them prescribed drugs without their knowledge and without receiving consent.

The practice has been severely criticised by pressure groups, which say it robs patients of their dignity and independence.

Dr Adrian Treloar, a psychiatrist in geriatrics at the Memorial Hospital in London, carried out a study into secret medication in NHS units, residential homes and among carers working in the community.

He found many carers gave drugs to patients secretly even though most homes and units did not allow it.

The study also showed just 3% of the units where staff secretly gave medication to patients recorded the treatment on patients' notes. This was largely because of a fear they would be sued by the patient's family.


It is a denial of people with dementia's independence and dignity

Harry Cayton, Alzheimer's Society

In some units which claimed it never happened, they found carers who admitted it happened "every day".

The study reports that carers secretly gave the medication by putting it in sandwiches, porridge and other food.

Only three of those carers questioned said they had asked a pharmacist's advice before hiding drugs in patients' food, even though such practice could affect how the medication works.

Others said they were afraid to ask for advice in case they got into trouble.

Almost a third of nurses admitted to giving medication without seeking advice from, or informing colleagues, doctors or patients' next of kin.

Challenge

Many carers administered drugs to patients in secret because the patients would not take it themselves.

Dr Treloar cited one example where a patient with epilepsy and a severe learning disability did not understand why he needed to take medication.

He noted that carers may be forced to make him take the drugs without his knowledge because of fears he could physically harm himself from uncontrolled fits.

"The alternative to not administering medication within food or drink may be that the individual patient suffers badly, when the patient can be effectively treated" said Dr Treloar.

"The challenge of health workers is to establish a way to do this which avoids abuse, while enabling good care."

Dr Treloar suggested units should develop regulations which staff can follow when a patient refuses to take their medication.

He added that a policy of giving drugs to patients without their knowledge should be discussed sensibly with the patient's relatives.

'Denial of dignity'

But Harry Cayton, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, criticised the action.

He said: "It is a denial of people with dementia's independence and dignity to give them medication without their knowledge or consent.

"The mental health act provides a framework in which medication can be given to people who cannot give consent.

"The Alzheimer's Society cannot condone the secret giving of medication to people with dementia however good the intention."

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03 Jul 00 | Health
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