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Action on antipsychotic drugs and dementia

12 November 2009

An action plan to tackle the over prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to dementia sufferers was announced by the Government today in response to the findings of an independent review by Professor Sube Banerjee, Head of Mental Health and Ageing at the Institute of Psychiatry at King's and co-author of the Government’s National Dementia Strategy.

‘The use of antipsychotic medication for people with dementia: time for action’ estimates that 150,000 people are inappropriately prescribed antipsychotic drugs to treat aggression and agitation. The National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines stipulate that such drugs should only be used when a person is a risk to themselves or others and where all other methods have been tried.  Additionally, the drugs should be prescribed for a short period of three months only whilst a care plan is put in place.

Professor Banerjee said: 'Antipsychotics are used too often in dementia; up to two thirds of the estimated 180,000 people with dementia receiving these are prescribed them unnecessarily.  This review identifies the potential risks and benefits of these medications in dementia and presents actions that we can take to address this problem. In doing so we would provide international leadership in this complex clinical area as well as improving the quality of life and quality of care for people with dementia and their carers in England.'

The Government’s action plan will include:

  • the appointment of a new National Clinical Director for Dementia;
  • measures to ensure people with dementia and their carers have access to psychological therapies to tackle the root of agitation and aggression;
  • an audit to establish definitive prescribing figures;
  • clear local targets to cut antipsychotics use as a result of the audit;
  • better regulation;
  • collaboration with the General Medical Council (GMC) and Royal Colleges to ensure all health and social care staff have specialist training in dementia; and
  • joint Department of Health and Alzheimer’s Society guidance on what to do if a family member is given antipsychotics.

Care Services Minister Phil Hope said: 'It is unacceptable that antipsychotic drugs are routinely prescribed to people with dementia. Excellent examples of practice do exist, but our action plan will help make sure this is the norm, not the exception. We expect the findings and recommendations to be taken into account by PCTs and all other relevant organisations.'

Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society Neil Hunt said: 'The Alzheimer’s Society welcomes this long awaited landmark review in recognition of the scale of the issue, which leads to an estimated 1,800 deaths a year. Change will only be achieved with commitment from government, PCT’s and health professionals and clear local targets. Today must mark a change in dementia care.'

The review, which was commissioned by the Department of Health, can be viewed at:

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