Deadly drugs still given to the elderly

The statistics, published today, disclose that 13 per cent of dementia patients in the North West are being given anti­psychotic drugs, which are often used by care home staff to make residents easier to handle. In London however, only 2 per cent of patients receive them.

Antipsychotic drugs, designed to treat conditions such as schizophrenia, can be prescribed for patients with dementia to help manage psychological and behavioural symptoms including aggression, shouting and sleep disturbance.

In 2009 a report found that four in five patients with dementia — 144,000 out of 180,000 — were being given them inappropriately, often to keep them quiet.

The Department of Health warned last year that the drugs were leading to 1,800 needless deaths a year, by making other medical conditions worse.

The figures from the Health and Social Care Information Service showed that the proportion of dementia patients across England being given the drugs has more than halved since 2006, down from 17 to 6.8 per cent.

While the prescription rate was 9 per cent in Yorkshire and the Humber, however, it was only 2.5 per cent in the North East.

Charities warned that the figures meant tens of thousands of lives were still being put at risk from the drugs.

Toby Williamson, from the Mental Health Foundation, said: “We welcome the fall in prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs for people with dementia but we are concerned about the wide regional variations.

“This strongly indicates that some areas are still inappropriately over-prescribing.”

Care home staff too often used them as a shortcut for managing residents, when more humanity was needed.

“Other interventions can be used to reduce distress and agitation among people with dementia,” he said.

Jeremy Hughes, the chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said of the countrywide reduction: “This momentous achievement is not just about statistics, it is about the lives of tens of thousands of people with dementia.”

He added: “However, there are still tens of thousands more people, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, having their lives put at risk by these drugs and some parts of the country are failing to reach the mark.

“Now is the time to move from fourth gear to fifth to ensure everyone’s prescriptions are reviewed and that only those people who benefit are kept on antipsychotics. They must only be a last resort.”

Paul Burstow, the care services minister, said: “More than halving the number of people with dementia receiving anti­psychotics marks a huge change in the right direction. It means tens of thousands of people will not be robbed of part of their lives to needless prescribing.

“But we can and must go further. That is why we are developing a risk assessment tool to help doctors use the drugs safely and appropriately.”

Mr Burstow added: “I have also ordered the re-run of this audit to keep tabs on the action that is being taken to tackle the unacceptable regional variation that we have exposed.”


Sourced from the Telegraph, 17th July 2012.