GPs could face sanctions for prescribing anti-psychotic drugs for dementia when there is no alternative, as ministers pledged a 'zero tolerance' crackdown on their use.
Dementia experts warned that GPs are under pressure to prescribe the drugs because of a lack of specialist units to refer dementia patients to, and requests from care homes.
This follows a BBC investigation which found that more than half of 355 surveyed GPs were still prescribing the drugs risperidone and olanzapine despite safety concerns.
In March 2004, the MHRA advised against using the drugs to treat dementia after they were found to raise stroke risk.
Speaking at the launch of the DoH's national dementia strategy in London last week, health minister Ivan Lewis called for 'zero tolerance'.
'We have launched an immediate review into the prescribing of anti-psychotic drugs and we need to be clear about the reasons why this is happening and the scale of the problem.'
Neil Hunt, chief executive of the charity Alzheimer's UK told GP that if GPs persistently prescribed anti-psychotics there was a case for sanctions.
Dr Tim Kendall, director of NICE's National Collaborative Centre for Mental Health, said that GPs should 'face the GMC'.
But Dr Chris Manning, chief executive of the charity Primary Care Mental Health and Education, said poor training of care home staff meant GPs could not cut prescribing, although the drugs were inappropriate in some cases.
North Shields GP Dr Dave Tomson, who has an interest in mental health, said anti-psychotic drugs were a last resort, but vital if patients risked harming themselves or others.
'Calling for a zero tolerance to these drugs suggests a woeful lack of awareness of the complexities of mental health.'
Lizzie McLennan, policy officer at Help the Aged, said care homes were often understaffed, forcing carers to rely on giving patients drugs instead of one-to-one care.
72% of GPs forced to prescribe risperidone, an anti-psychotic linked to increased stroke risk