Alzheimer's campaign and the nation's health

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The Daily Mail’s attacks on the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) continue. Today’s campaign to end restrictions on Alzheimer’s drugs comes after similar pressure on Herceptin, Avastin, Erbitux, Accomplia and others. Each time the paper positions itself as the people’s champion against a money-pinching government and its heartless partner-in-crime, NICE. Wouldn’t it be nice if things were this simple? But what we don’t learn from the coverage – particularly when the campaigns are successful – are the treatments that have to be cut back and the palliative care that has to be cancelled to pay for the new drugs. Herceptin, for example, which works in under 20% of cases of early breast cancer and can have serious side effects, costs £30,000 per year. Incredibly important though this is for some women, the money does not come out of a bottomless pot, it has to be diverted from elsewhere.
In the case of the Alzheimer’s drugs NICE – which was not given a right to reply in the Mail’s article – has since responded on NewsCounter. NICE states that the efficacy of the drugs is in doubt and emphasises the importance of non-drug interventions for many cases of Alzheimers. Its decision has been challenged by Eisai Ltd and Pfizer Ltd, the manufacturers of the drug in question. The Alzheimer society’s support for this challenge (through a separate legal action) means NICE will have to pay significant legal costs which it says would otherwise be spent on supporting healthcare.
This is not to understate the importance of providing drug and health care to Alzheimers’ sufferers, but to suggest that more balanced coverage – though lacking the emotional punch – could make for better healthcare in the long run.

Written by Martin Moore

February 27th, 2007 at 1:17 pm

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