Exclusive - Strike-off risk over dementia drugs

Legal experts confirm GPs risk being struck off over antipsychotic prescribing.

GPs could be struck off for prescribing antipsychotic drugs to dementia patients, a medico-legal expert has warned.

Dr Mike Devlin, an adviser at the Medical Defence Union, said it was possible that a GP could be struck off for prescribing an antipsychotic drug to a dementia patient who then goes on to suffer a stroke as a result.

Last month, GP revealed that charities were calling for doctors to face sanctions under a 'zero-tolerance' crackdown on anti-psychotic prescribing (GP, 27 June). This followed a BBC investigation which found that more than half of 355 surveyed GPs were still prescribing risperidone and olanzapine despite safety concerns.

In March 2004, the MHRA advised against the use of risperidone and olanzapine after they were found to increase the risk of stroke.

But dementia experts say GPs have little choice but to prescribe the drugs because of the lack of specialist dementia units and requests from care home staff who could not otherwise cope with dementia patients.

Dr Devlin said GPs could not use this as an excuse in a GMC hearing, although it would be taken into consideration.

'GPs could be struck off if there appears to be a pattern of behaviour towards prescribing, but even if it is an isolated case it could lead to GMC action and a fitness-to-practise investigation,' he said.

'Doctors are liable for any harm caused to the patient.'

GPs should follow the GMC advice for prescribing to clinical needs, said Dr Devlin.

Dr Chris Manning, chief executive of the charity Primary Care Mental Health and Education, said striking off GPs would be a retrograde step and would only serve to 'scapegoat GPs'.

'We need to begin training for those dealing with dementia,' he said.

sanjay.tanday@haymarket.com

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