Anger at plan to withdraw vital drugs

By Mark HeathA FORMER MP whose wife is battling Alzheimer's disease has told of his anger at a proposal to withdraw three key drugs used to fight the illness from the NHS.

By Mark Heath

A FORMER MP whose wife is battling Alzheimer's disease has told of his anger at a proposal to withdraw three key drugs used to fight the illness from the NHS.

Ken Weetch said the draft guidance put forward by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) was “outrageous”.

Mr Weetch, who served as Ipswich MP between 1974 and 1987, cares full-time for wife Audrey, who has suffered with Alzheimer's disease for six years.


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He said the drugs that the guidance could see withdrawn - Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl - were a “godsend” to both people battling the disease and their carers.

“There is no cure for Alzheimer's. It's progressive and it's remorseless, but certain drugs can slow the march of this condition and the drugs can be a boon to Alzheimer sufferers,” added Mr Weetch.

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“Thousands of sufferers are going to face a crippling body blow from the announcement by NICE that these drugs are not going to be prescribed for newly diagnosed Alzheimer's patients on the NHS.

“They will still be able to buy them at high cost, but the price will be beyond many of the sufferers' means.”

Although the guidance will not directly affect the couple - people already taking the drugs will not have them withdrawn - Mr Weetch spoke of the impact the decision will have on sufferers and carers.

He said: “The NICE announcement is outrageous. They have said it's because of the cost, but in my view what they have done is to run up the white flag when faced with the 'bean counters' in the NHS.

“They have given in. These drugs make a difference to sufferers. While they can't cure the condition, they can delay the onset of its worst symptoms and for several years they can give the sufferer a better quality of life.”

Mr Weetch added: “The economics of this NICE announcement are the economics of voodoo. What these drugs will do is prevent people going into full-time care much earlier than they do now.

“This saves the NHS millions of pounds. The carers, like myself, amount to an unpaid army - if it wasn't for us, it would cost the Government and the taxpayer a great deal more.

“These drugs give some relief to carers and I can say that in Audrey's case it has slowed down the condition and it's been a godsend.”

Mr Weetch, 71, said the drugs were estimated to cost just £2.50 a day. “If, after all those years these people have paid in (to the NHS) they are begrudged £2.50 a day for a tablet, then I don't know what the nation has come to,” he added.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, said: “We are stunned at the proposal that vulnerable people with Alzheimer's disease should not receive treatments that have been proven to work.

“If these initial recommendations are finally approved thousands of people with dementia will be denied the only drug treatment available to them.”

A spokeswoman for NICE said the guidance was only in draft form and would be put out for extensive consultation before the final document was published in October.

mark.heath@eadt.co.uk

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