HC Deb 09 January 2001 vol 360 cc863-5
5. Rev. Martin Smyth (Belfast, South)

What assessment he has made of injurious impact of over-prescribing of drugs for patients with Alzheimer's disease. [142900]

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Mr. John Hutton)

All prescribing for older people, including those with Alzheimer's disease, should be undertaken and monitored carefully by the doctor responsible. The Department published advice in 1998 on prescribing in residential and nursing homes, which covered the use of neuroleptic drugs. The national service framework for older people will also contribute to improving the care of older people with dementia by setting new national standards for health and social care services.

Rev. Martin Smyth

I welcome that response and the standard that has been set. I also welcome the improved care for those with Alzheimer's disease and look forward to more discoveries that will help them and cure them. Having said that, does the Minister share my concern that, although some of us thought that the liquid cosh was a thing of the past, there seem to be more reports of people being drugged so that they are subdued and do not cause trouble to their carers?

Mr. Hutton

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his opening comments. There is little doubt that dealing with Alzheimer's disease and other forms of dementia is one of the greatest health and social care challenges that our society faces. Currently, 600,000 people suffer from Alzheimer's disease, and it is estimated that the number will increase substantially in the years ahead as the number of people in our society aged over 80 increases significantly.

I am aware of the concerns that the hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members have expressed about the use of neuroleptic drugs in care homes. Almost two years ago, Age Concern produced some helpful advice, which included the recommendation that there should be regular reviews of the prescription of neuroleptic drugs. The hon. Gentleman and I share a common interest. We shall make sure that the use of such drugs is kept under proper review.

Mr. Denis MacShane (Rotherham)

Is my hon. Friend aware that some doctors in this country—I have in mind a constituency case—are urging dementia patients to take drugs that are banned in America by the Food and Drug Administration? We need a lot more information. Anybody who suffers from or has an elderly relative who suffers from one of the 200 dementing illnesses faces huge personal and social pressure, and it is wrong for doctors casually to say, "This drug will do the trick for you", when it may be banned in other countries. We are working through the National Institute for Clinical Excellence to achieve an even balance throughout the country, but we need more publicity, openness and information. I hope that his Department can help to provide that.

Mr. Hutton

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his comments. Of course, he is absolutely right. NICE is reviewing a range of available drug treatments for those who have been afflicted with Alzheimer's disease, and I understand that the final appraisal advice will be available shortly.

Mrs. Caroline Spelman (Meriden)

With respect to the hon. Member for Belfast, South (Rev. Martin Smyth), Alzheimer's sufferers would say that the problem is under-prescribing of the drugs that they need. In the west midlands, Aricept is not available on the NHS unless the patient is prepared to take part in a trial, which is unnecessary and merely aggravates the problem of postcode prescribing to which the Government have failed to deliver a solution. The Secretary of State said: It is important … that we achieve our aim, which is to ensure the introduction of more effective treatments into the national health service more quickly than has been possible before.—[Official Report, 10 November 1998; Vol. 319, c. 136.] What went wrong?

Mr. Hutton

I am afraid that that confirms that the modern Conservative party is the stupid party of British politics. The hon. Lady complains about the postcode lottery of care, but she might remind the House of the solution proposed by her party and the Conservative Government: they created the lottery of care and their NHS reforms made it impossible to deal with those problems. She is aware, as I hope the whole House is, that NICE is reviewing the evidence surrounding the use of such drugs and will shortly publish its final advice.

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