Dozens of dementia patients in west London prescribed high-risk antipsychotic drugs, figures reveal

Dozens of dementia patients in west London are being prescribed antipsychotic drugs, which increase risk of stroke and can accelerate the symptoms of the disease.

The Alzheimer’s Society has warned that the drugs are an “archaic and inappropriate” way to treat most people living with dementia.

At the end of June, 85 dementia patients in the West London Clinical Commissioning Group area had been prescribed antipsychotics in the previous six weeks, NHS Digital figures show.

Of those, at least 14 were given the medication despite not being diagnosed with psychosis.

The data is recorded by GPs, and small numbers have been suppressed to protect patient identity.

Overall, 1,361 people with dementia live in west London. That means 6% of them had been given antipsychotic medication in the previous six weeks.

That’s lower than the 9% prescribing rate across England.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists said that the “vast majority” of dementia sufferers are unlikely to need antipsychotic medication, which is often used to sedate and calm agitated patients.

Following an analysis which showed that inappropriate prescriptions of antipsychotic drugs contributed to around 1,800 deaths a year, the Department of Health made reducing their use a national priority in 2009.

But prescriptions for the drugs have risen by 6% in England over the past year, with more than 44,000 patients now receiving the medication.

In west London, however, usage has fallen since June 2018, when 90 sufferers had been prescribed the drugs within the previous six weeks.

Dr Amanda Thompsell, chair of the college’s old age faculty, said: “If a patient starts showing common dementia symptoms, such as wandering or asking repetitive questions, they should be managed in a supportive way, without the need for drugs.

“The suggestion that there may still be pockets of the country where they are being used is concerning.

“Patients with Alzheimer’s disease may experience delusions or hallucinations, and if they are causing the person great distress, then a short course of antipsychotics may be necessary, but only when non-pharmacological treatments have failed.”

The Alzheimer’s Society said the increased use of antipsychotics across England was “incredibly concerning”, and called for more funding for investment in dementia care.

Fiona Carragher, the society’s chief policy and research officer, said: “These drugs should be used only as a last resort.

“They can increase the risk of death, treble the risk of stroke and accelerate cognitive decline.

“People with dementia are falling prey to a stretched system, and it’s high time the Government created a joined-up system to deliver decent dementia care to everyone who needs it.”

NHS England said that progress is being made on curbing the use of antipsychotic drugs.

A spokesperson said: “The NHS Long Term Plan commits to going even further in improving care, including rolling out support from GPs, pharmacists and other health staff to review prescriptions for people in care homes.”

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