Hundreds of thousands could gain access to Alzheimer's treatments

Hundreds of thousands of people with Alzheimer's disease who have been denied medical treatment could soon be given access to life-changing drugs on the NHS.

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) ruled that the medications, which cost just £2.80 per person per day, are cost effective and should be available on prescription.

The draft decision is a victory for people with Alzheimer's disease and their carers who have campaigned with Alzheimer's Society and other organisations for full access to the drug treatments since they were controversially restricted in 2007.

Ruth Sutherland, Interim Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society says:

'This is a momentous day for thousands of people with Alzheimer's and their carers. These drugs can help people have a better quality of life at all stages of the condition. While they don't work for everyone, small but important benefits can enable many people to recognise their loved ones for longer, play with their grandchildren or make vital plans for the future. Alzheimer's Society welcomes the draft decision and will now be campaigning for more people to have access to the treatments from today.'

If the draft decision is upheld three drugs - Aricept, Exelon and Reminyl - would be available on the NHS for people in the early and moderate stages of Alzheimer's disease. These treatments have up to now been restricted to people in the moderate stages. A fourth drug, called Ebixa, would also be made available to people in the moderate to late stages.

Professor Clive Ballard, Alzheimer's Society's Director of Research and leading old aged psychiatrist says:

'If this guidance is issued, doctors will no longer have to watch people deteriorate without being able to treat them. Being able to prescribe in the best interest of their patient will also be a strong incentive for GPs to diagnose Alzheimer's disease earlier and for doctors to go to their doctor if they are worried about their memory. Early diagnosis and intervention means better choice and control in the support and care available.'

Ann Johnson, 57, who takes Reminyl to treat her Alzheimer's disease, says:

'Reminyl has made a huge difference to my life and I am absolutely delighted that now so many other people could benefit too.' 

'Without these drugs I would be a shadow of the person I am today. Before I was prescribed them I knew what I wanted to say but I couldn't find the right words. I had low self esteem and used to dread getting lost. It was terrifying. Now I'm able to live life to the full. You can't put a price on that, it's immeasurable.'

There are 465,000 people with Alzheimer's in the UK and 62,000 people develop the disease every year. In compiling its latest guidance, NICE used a different model to assess the cost-effectiveness of the drugs and concluded they can now be shown to offer value for money.

NICE is inviting people to comment on the draft decision by 28 October, with a second meeting of the Appraisal Committee taking place on 25 November.