March 13, 2006

The Alzheimer's Society, a UK-based charity, has lambasted the National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) after a guidance published by NICE recommended restricting the use of more expensive anticholinesterase drugs to patients in the early stages of Alzheimer's disease. The society described the proposal of NICE -- a public health organization that services England and Wales -- as an "unethical and immoral" cost-cutting measure. Per the NICE guidance, anticholinesterase drugs, which have been shown to reduce the symptoms of Alzheimer's disease, would only be available to patients in the later stages of the condition. Those in its earlier phases would be treated solely with less-costly sedatives.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer's Society, commented that to deny early-stage Alzheimer's patients treatment would "discourage people from seeking an early diagnosis of a degenerative disease which requires a great deal of help and support."

The UK's Cochrane Collaboration, an independent healthcare review body, also denounced the proposal, stating that "it would be inappropriate for any provider of healthcare to make decisions regarding the availability of [the drugs] for patients [based] on economic arguments."

There are currently approximately 382,000 people with Alzheimer's disease in England and Wales, with 73,000 in the condition's early stages and 309,000 in its moderate-to-severe stages.