Anger over dementia drug ruling

East Anglian campaigners spoke of their bitter disappointment last night after failing to win a High Court bid to force the NHS to fund drugs for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

East Anglian campaigners spoke of their bitter disappointment last night after failing to win a High Court bid to force the NHS to fund drugs for people in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

Thousands of people would have benefited if recommendations on when sufferers should be allowed the drugs from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (Nice) were over-turned.

Yesterday Mrs Justice Dobbs, sitting in London, said tests used to assess Alzheimer's were discriminatory in people with learning difficulties or those who have English as a second language and ordered Nice to amend its guidance in relation to three drugs.

But there was no change to the recommendation that the drugs are only cost-effective in the later-stage disease - proving a huge disappointment for campaigners.

Linda Gill, Age Concern Norfolk's information and advice manager, said: “We are very disappointed. According to the Alzheimer's Society it makes an awful lot of difference to have the drugs early. And we know from working with people with dementia, Alzheimer's and other mental health issues that it is the cruellest illness and if you can buy time, however long that is, it has to be worth it.”

In June, the EDP reported that dementia is set to soar in East Anglia with experts forecasting a 45pc rise in the next 15 years.

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The Alzheimer's Society, which supported the challenge of the NICE guidelines, warned that more than 91,000 people in the region will be living with dementia by 2021.

The research, conducted by the London School of Economics and King's College London, reported that 63,000 people in East Anglia currently suffer with dementia, with Norfolk and Essex having the highest number of people affected.

Ian Gibson, who attended a rally on the issue in Norwich in November, said: “I am very disappointed, I know several people with Alzheimer's who have had to fight hard to get the drugs, which has brought them great relief.

“It seems to me that Nice does not really understand what quality of life means both for sufferers and their carers.”

Last year Nice, backed by an appeal panel, decided that three acetyl cholinesterase inhibitors (AChEIs) - Aricept, Reminyl and Exelon - should not be made available on the NHS in the early stages of Alzheimer's.

It decided that the drugs, which cost about £2.50 per person a day, were not cost effective in relation to the benefits they offered to such sufferers and their carers.

The watchdog, which described the drugs as having “only a small clinical effect”, said its decision-making processes were “open, transparent and fair”.

In the first High Court challenge of its kind to a decision by Nice, Eisai, the Japanese company which makes Aricept, one of the drugs at the centre of the case, and Pfizer, which distributes it in Britain, accused Nice of acting “irrationally and unlawfully” and argued that its decision was “procedurally flawed”.

Ian Small, Norfolk Primary Care Trust deputy head of prescribing and medicines management, said: “Norfolk PCT will be scrutinising the revised guidance when it becomes available and will ensure that we continue to follow recommendations set out by Nice.”

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