Anger as Alzheimer's drugs ruled too expensive

The hopes of hundreds of thousands of patients with Alzheimer's disease have been dashed after the Government's watchdog on new medicines banned treatments for most patients.

The National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) announced last night that the drugs, which cost around £2.50 a day, are not cost-effective treatment for the majority of sufferers.

Alzheimer's groups reacted with fury last night to the decision, which Nice was forced to release earlier than planned after it was leaked to newspapers. The institute is proposing that newly diagnosed patients in both early and late stages of the disease should be denied the treatments, which will only be made available to people in the moderate stage of the disease.

The Alzheimer's Disease Society said the guidance was unethical, lacked clinical sense and put doctors in an impossible position. A group of more than 30 charities and professional organisations said they would seek to have the decision overturned.

Nice stressed that those currently being prescribed the medicines will not be affected, and that the ruling will only apply to newly diagnosed patients once the ruling comes into force this July. Professional bodies and selected charities have the right to appeal its decision before then.

There are 380,000 people with Alzheimer's in England and Wales. Of those, 72,500 are in the early stage of the disease, a degenerative condition that steadily erodes sufferers ability to think and function and ultimately strips them of their personality.

Professor Clive Ballard, a leading old-age psychiatrist at Newcastle General Hospital said: "Doctors will be forced into the impossible position of watching patients deteriorate before they prescribe drugs they know will help.

"Treatments will also be withdrawn when patients enter the severe stages of dementia, leaving dangerous and unlicensed sedatives as the only alternative. This is dangerous and unacceptable."

Neil Hunt, of the Action on Alzheimer's Drugs alliance, representing over 30 charitable and professional organisations, slammed the decision as "outrageous". He said: "Where is the clinical excellence in a decision that puts cost cutting and flawed calculations ahead of care and quality of life? The decision will rob families of precious time in the early stages of dementia and deprive people of comfort and dignity.

"Nice has rejected the views of experts, clinicians, and most importantly people with dementia and their carers all for a saving of just £2.50 per person per day."

The decision marks a turnaround from a previous ruling, made in 2001, that all three drugs should be made available to sufferers at all stages of the disease. Since 2004, the institute has been reviewing drugs prescribed for Alzheimer's disease.