Alzheimer’s sufferers ‘denied drugs’

Thousands of people suffering from early stage Alzheimer’s will be denied drugs on the NHS following a ruling by the health watchdog today.

Charities lost their appeal to the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (Nice) to make the £2.50-a-day anti-dementia drugs more widely available.

The institute instead ruled that donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine would only be made available to people at the moderate stage of the disease, saying the medicine did “not make enough of a difference” for some patients.

There are around 750,000 people in the UK who suffer from dementia, and Alzheimer’s groups have said the drugs – which make it easier to carry out everyday tasks – could greatly improve their quality of life.

Included in the ruling was the decision to restrict another drug, memantine, to people with moderately severe to severe forms of Alzheimer’s.

Nice chief executive Andrew Dillon said: “Alzheimer’s is a cruel and devastating illness and we realise that today’s announcement will be disappointing to people with Alzheimer’s and those who treat and care for them.

“But we have to be honest and say that, based on all the evidence, including data presented by the drug companies themselves, our experts have concluded that these drugs do not make enough of a difference for us to recommend their use for treating all stages of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We have recommended the use of these drugs where they have the potential to make a real difference, which is at the moderate stage of the illness.”

The manufacturers of donepezil, Eisai and Pfizer, have said they may call for a judicial review of the decision.

Umbrella group Action on Alzheimer’s has reacted angrily to the ruling, with the Alzheimer’s Society condemning “fundamental flaws” in the Nice review and calling on the government to intervene.

Chief executive Neil Hunt said: “This blatant cost-cutting will rob people of priceless time early in the disease and later clinicians will have no choice but to use dangerous sedatives that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke.”

The Liberal Democrats also condemned the decision, saying it showed disregard for older people’s quality of life.

Health spokeswoman Sandra Gidley said: “Unfortunately this decision sends the message that quality of life for older people does not matter.

“It seems to run counter to the government’s expressed desire to help people live independent lives for as long as possible.”

The Department of Health (DoH) stressed that Nice was an independent body that had to deal with tough decisions “free from political interference”. A spokeswoman said it would be “entirely inappropriate” to step in.