Hi Jeanette - I've pasted the full text of the article below:
Minister intervenes in row over drugs to treat Alzheimer's
The health minister Stephen Ladyman has intervened in the growing row over plans by NHS advisers to stop the routine prescription of four drugs to treat Alzheimer's disease.
He wants to ensure that they recognise the social implications of withdrawing official support for such drugs, even if they do not regard them as clinically cost-effective.
Draft proposals by the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (Nice) to end its endorsement of the medicines for newly diagnosed patients in England and Wales has horrified patients' groups, doctors and manufacturers.
Protesters are lobbying MPs to force a rethink of Nice's conclusions about the drugs, which cost about pounds 2.50 a day for each patient. They have warned that the decision signals "a return to the dark age" of dementia care.
But Mr Ladyman indicated that similar concerns existed at the Department of Health, which is to submit its own report on the issue this week. He told the Observer that "they [Nice] need to see the bigger picture, like the impact they will make on the families and the carers. They have to look at the wider impact of this decision. It may well be that once they have looked at the extra evidence, they will come to a different decision."
Mr Ladyman said: "I can understand why the public is so worried. If you have someone in your family who has a form of dementia and you have drugs which do work, then you are going to find this decision a bit baffling."
Three drugs to treat mild to moderate Alzheimer's, Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl, were recommended for widespread use by Nice in 2001 after complaints about postcode prescribing. The fourth, Ebixa, is used against more severe Alzheimer's.
The health department denied that Mr Ladyman had told the Observer that Nice guidelines would be overturned, but said it was open to anybody to offer "evidence and views" before Nice's consultation on its proposals ended later this month.
A spokesman said: "The government respects the independence of Nice. However, in view of the public concern over the draft proposals, the government will want to ensure that all aspects have been fully considered.
"In particular, the Department of Health will be asking Nice whether the wider social implications of not approving the drugs' use have been fully taken into account, especially the benefits and costs to carers as well as patients."
Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, revealed yesterday that Mr Ladyman had contacted him to get his opinion within a couple of days of the Nice draft proposals being published.
"If this goes the distance, we will be absolutely delighted. We don't feel they [Nice] had understood the quality of life issue. We would never say these drugs were the last word. We would love to see them improved but we can't see much improvement taking place when nothing is being prescribed. We were appalled at the symbolic, let alone the practical, implications of nothing being available."
A spokesman for the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry said: "We are delighted to hear a rethink is in progress, both from the point of view of patients, people who look after them and families, and from the point of view of research in this area.
"We acknowledge medicines available for Alzheimer's are not the complete answer. It is going to encourage companies if they have sufficient hope medicines are going to be used. The decision as it stood would have been an enormous disincentive."