At long last, the inappropriate named N.I.C.E. – National Institute of Clinical Excellence – has agreed to reverse its decision on the early use of Aricept and other similar drugs which have been shown to slow down the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease. Their original ruling to stop doctors prescribing the drugs was based on their view that they were not cost effective at £2.50 per patient per day. That was met at the time with a hail of protest which fell on deaf ears.
Since then there has been a relentless three year long campaign conducted by the Alzheimer’s Society with the aid of The Daily Mail, challenging the decision both legally, which they lost, and in the press, which won. The public announcement by the author Terry Pratchett that he had the disease, undoubtedly helped raise the profile of the campaign.
Eventually N.I.C.E. reworked its financial calculations and accepted that the cost benefit of the long term savings in hospital and residential care admissions could more than justify the initial cost of the early use of the drug. Quite why it took three years and much distress to figure this out, remains a mystery. At least we have a Government sponsored Quango that corrected its mistake even if it didn’t go so far as to admit it.
Nearly three quarters of a million people in the UK suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease and yet less than 50,000 people are prescribed these drugs. What is now needed is another massive campaign to encourage a big increase in take up, although sadly it may be too late for many sufferers whose condition is too far advanced to benefit.
The broader significance of this decision goes beyond dementia. It potentially heralds a positive switch in the direction of preventative health care.