Drug offers hope for psychotic patients

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Violent schizophrenics who have failed to respond to any treatment could finally be helped by newly available anti-psychotic drugs.

According to research at three special hospitals in England and Wales, 14 per cent of those taking clozaphine have since been discharged or transferred, the Special Hospitals Services Authority conference in Nottingham heard yesterday.

Side effects of the drug do not outweigh the benefits, Pamela Taylor, professor of special hospital psychiatry in London and Broadmoor, said.

She has been conducting the first systematic research project into patients at Broadmoor, Ashworth and Rampton.

Conservative estimates indicate that between 30 and 50 per cent of people with schizophrenia fail to respond to any treatment at all. Clozaphine was developed in the late Sixties but fell into disuse because of its effect on some patients' immune systems.

"Its potential benefits proved too great, however, to leave it on the shelf," Professor Taylor said. Studies showed it to offer significant relief from symptoms and social improvement in otherwise unresponsive patients.

Prescription started in Rampton in January 1990 and over the next year in Ashworth and Broadmoor. In total, 201 patients took the drug. Nearly 5 per cent stopped because of falling white blood cell counts and 40 per cent stopped because of a relapse, lack of efficacy or refusal to take a blood test. However, 28 (14 per cent) patients improved enough to be transferred or discharged.

"This figure is likely to be an underestimate of success as negotiations to move a patient once improved are often very prolonged. Some of those still resident and taking medication are improving," Professor Taylor said. But she added there was need for more co-ordinated research. She called for an open study of systematic treatment.

t A moratorium on the closure of mental health beds was demanded from both sides of the Commons yesterday. John Marshall, Tory MP for Hendon South, said the community care policy, though born out of compassion, was misguided, failing to recognise "asylums were a haven for troubled souls". He said the policy of reducing beds for the mentally ill should be reversed.

His call was echoed by Alan Milburn, Labour health spokes-man, who wanted a halt to acute bed closures. He said there was a danger that care in the community would cease to command public confidence unless urgent action was taken.