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Tuesday, 10 October, 2000, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Arthritis treatment 'falling behind'
Elderly woman
Osteoarthritis affects more than one million people in the UK
Pressures on doctors to keep drug costs down means many patients with osteoarthritis are not receiving the latest treatment, according to research.

A survey of 2,000 GPs in the UK found that one in four were under pressure locally not to prescribe the latest drugs, called Cox II Inhibitors, which were launched last year.

A subsequent study has found that the UK lags behind the rest of Europe in using the drugs and is ranked 19th out of 28 countries across the world on its use of Cox II Inhibitors.

The study suggests that doctors are being forced to put NHS savings ahead of the interests of patients.


I am not sure it is a cost issue

Spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign

Cox II Inhibitors are regarded as the latest generation of drugs designed to treat the long-term effects and the pain associated with osteoarthritis.

They are designed to cause less side effects in patients than the more common non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS).

The government's NHS watchdog the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) is expected to rule next year whether Cox II Inhibitors should be available on the NHS.

But Dr Andrew Moore, editor of the medical website Bandolier who carried out the study, said the drugs should be more widely available.

"There is no doubt in my mind that it is surely in the best interest of both patients and the health service to minimise the risk of side effects associated with older drugs such as NSAIDS and give patients the best treatment available."

He added: "Around 11% of the NHS budget is spent on drugs and this visibility has rightly led to prescribing costs becoming a major target for cost cutting at every level of the NHS.

"But if more attention was paid to assessing cost in the NHS as a whole we could deliver a much better service with the precious resources available."

Factors

A spokeswoman for the Arthritis Research Campaign said she doubted cost was a factor in the low levels of the drug given to patients.

"I am not sure it is a cost issue. They are more expensive but not wildly so.

"A lot of doctors are waiting for a decision from the National Institute for Clinical Excellence before prescribing the drug.

"There is some evidence that these drugs are better but it is not a wonder drug. There are still side effects for patients."

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