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NHS given another year to reduce use of 'killer' drugs

The NHS has been given an extra 16 months to hit a target to prescribe fewer antipsychotic drugs which are said by health minister Paul Burstow to “kill” dementia patients.

The 2012-13 operating framework places a special emphasis on older people and includes a target to reduce the use of antipsychotic medicines for people with dementia by two thirds.

This is exactly the same target that Mr Burstow announced last year, with a deadline of November 2011.

In a speech earlier this month at a national dementia congress, Mr Burstow had said: “These drugs kill people. They increase the risk of strokes and other life threatening conditions.

“They are not licensed for treating dementia.  They can worsen the very signs and symptoms that are the trigger for the prescribing in the first place.”

Many experts have criticised the use of the drugs as a “chemical cosh” to control vulnerable people.

But HSJ has established that the baseline on which the 2012-13 target will be measured is the same as that being used for the 2010 commitment.

The Department of Health confirmed the required two thirds cut would use as a starting point the 180,000 patients estimated in a 2009 study to be receiving antipsychotics.

It will only know the results of the initial target in 2012 when a DH-commissioned NHS Information Centre audit is due to be published. Mr Burstow admitted at the dementia congress that “early signs” were not good.

Mental Health Foundation chief executive Andrew McCulloch said of the extension to the target: “It’s not very impressive, especially when you have to question whether even a third of those patients should be on antipsychotics anyway.”

The two thirds reduction appeared “arbitrary”, he said. “I don’t know how they came up with that figure,” he added.  

However, he welcomed the emphasis on dementia in the operating framework, particularly the commitment to fully roll out access to psychological therapies by 2014-15.

The framework also said there must be “targeted support for children and young people at particular risk of developing mental health problems, such as looked after children”.

As expected, it set out a requirement that the recently developed currency for adult mental health services is used by commissioners.

However, mental health trusts are still awaiting an implementation for the mental health strategy published by the DH published in February, No Health Without Mental Health, which was criticised for having few measurable outcomes. This is expected in the spring.

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