DoH targets rapid cut in antipsychotics

Two-year deadline set to cut use of antipsychotic drugs in dementia patients

MRI scan showing the brain of a patient with dementia (Photograph: SPL)
MRI scan showing the brain of a patient with dementia (Photograph: SPL)

The use of antipsychotic drugs for treating dementia should be cut by two-thirds in the next two years, the DoH has said.

An update to the 2009 National Dementia Strategy for England requires all PCTs to publish details of their plans to improve dementia services.

These 'action plans' will include how they will reduce use of antipsychotics.

The update follows a report last year warning the drugs were used too often in dementia care and may harm patients.

The DoH said it was 'committed to ensuring a greater focus on accelerating the pace of improvement in dementia care'.

However, the department will not assess PCTs on achievement of outcomes, instead relying on local people to hold PCTs to account.

Earlier this year, the department was criticised by the National Audit Office for failing to ensure strategy targets were being met.

GPC prescribing lead Dr Bill Beeby supported a reduction in the inappropriate use of antipsychotics, but said problems with antipsychotic prescribing were complex.

'The issue is never as simple as it's portrayed to be,' he said. 'Antipsychotics are not used in isolation - they're used in real world situations, often to reduce a patient's distress.

'Whenever possible, GPs prefer to deal with this with non-medical means. Unfortunately, we've got to have an alternative available.'

Alzheimer's Society interim chief executive Ruth Sutherland welcomed the plans: 'Investing sensibly in dementia now will improve people's lives and could potentially save hundreds of millions of pounds.

'As a million people develop dementia in the next 10 years, everyone has a role to play.'

The NHS Information Centre is auditing current standards of dementia services, including prescribing of antipsychotic drugs. Its initial findings are due in the autumn.

A GP investigation this year (GP, 17 June) found one in three PCTs did not know how they would implement the dementia strategy, 18 months after it was launched.

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