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GP patients with dementia up 17% in a year and a half

Number of scrips for dementia drugs has risen six-fold in a decade, but drug costs stable

Louise Prime

Wednesday, 20 January 2016

The number of people whose GP records show they have dementia has risen by almost a fifth over the past year and a half alone, according to the latest official statistics. Yet, the annual cost of dementia medicines to the NHS is now only just over 6% higher than it was even a decade ago, said the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC) in its new report.

The HSCIC said that from April 2014 to December 2015, the proportion of people in England whose GP records indicated a diagnosis of dementia rose by 17%, from 643 per 100,000 to 755 per 100,000. The number of diagnoses in England is now 423,000, from a total of 56.0m registered patients.

The HSCIC reported that over the decade between 2004 and 2014, the number of prescriptions dispensed in primary care for medicines appraised by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence to treat Alzheimer’s disease – donepezil hydrochloride, galantamine, rivastigmine and memantine – rose almost six-fold, from 502,000 to 3.0 million. Yet, over that same period, the cost of these medicines (in terms of net ingredient cost) rose only from £42.8m to £45.7m.

The cost of drugs for Alzheimer’s disease reached a high point of £110.8m in 2011, followed by a substantial fall when the patent expired for the most commonly prescribed medicine, donepezil hydrochloride, and cheaper generic formulations became available.

Alzheimer’s Research UK chief executive Hilary Evans said: “This report doesn’t investigate the reasons behind the increase in prescriptions, but it’s likely that a drive to improve diagnosis rates and a rapidly ageing population have contributed to the rise. This report shows that progress is being made in diagnosing people with dementia but also highlights the urgent need for more research into prevention and better treatments. Dementia costs the UK economy £23.6bn every year and the human cost is even higher. While existing dementia treatments can help with some of the symptoms, we still lack treatments capable of stopping the damage caused by diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”

The HSCIC’s report also showed that 39% of carers who looked after someone with dementia spent 100 or more hours each week doing so in 2014/15, and furthermore, more than half (51%) of carers had been fulfilling this role for over five years. Carers of people with dementia assessed their own quality of life as just 7.7 out of 12 overall, with a low of 7.3 in London and a high of 8.4 in the North East.

Hilary Evans commented: “There are currently 850,000 people living with dementia in the UK and the condition is now the biggest killer of women. Dementia affects the lives of people diagnosed and those close to them causing social isolation, financial strain and impacting both psychological and physical health.”

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