Alzheimer's Society attacks 'devastating' court ruling

The high court decision not to uphold the Alzheimer's Society's challenge of the National Institute for Clinical Excellence's policies over funding of medication for people in the early stages of the disease was "insulting and devastating", the charity's chief executive has said.

The Alzheimer’s Society raised £250,000 through an appeal earlier this year to allow it to take part as an “interested party” in the judicial review, which was brought by Eisai, the Japanese manufacturer of the medication in question, and Pfizer, the drug’s UK distributor. It was the first time a judicial review had been sought for a decision made by Nice, the agency that decides which treatments the NHS can provide.

The judge in the case, which finished on Friday, found that Nice's failure to offer specific guidelines on access to Alzheimer’s drugs for people with learning difficulties or those whose first language wasn’t English was discriminatory, and ordered the agency to redraft them.

However, she upheld Nice's decision-making, which led to its assessment that the drugs, which cost £2.50 per day, are not cost-effective in the early stages of the disease. She rejected claims that the institute had acted “irrationally and unlawfully”. She also rejected claims that Nice hadn’t properly assessed the impact of the drugs on the quality of life of carers and that it had underestimated the cost of long-term care.

Hunt described the judge’s decisions as “deeply disappointing”. He said: “Without further change to the guidance, people in the early stages of the disease will still be refused drugs because Nice considers that these people are not worth £2.50 a day. This is insulting and devastating news. People will be forced to deteriorate before they get the treatment they need. Is this the sort of society we want to live in?”

Andrew Dillon, chief executive of Nice, said: “We were challenged on six grounds, and the court found in our favour on five of them. This ruling strengthens Nice by endorsing our approach to evaluating drugs.”

He said Nice had always intended to give equal drugs access to non-native speakers and people with learning disabilities. “We will reissue our guidance to the NHS to make this crystal clear,” he said.

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