The end of the chemical cosh?

One from the file marked ‘at last’ today; the government has announced a “tough” (their word) new action plan to tackle the over-prescribing of antipsychotic drugs to people with dementia.

Anyone involved with social care – or who at least reads and writes a lot about it – over the past few years will be well aware of this problem. There have been numerous newspaper stories about people with dementia being drugged, as well as studies published on the mostly negative effects of it on patients.

Another example of how widespread this problem is is that some care homes even use the fact they don’t administer drugs to dementia patients as a selling point.

So the headline figure of 150,000 given inappropriate drugs is also no surprise, although having read a couple of responses to the Department of Health’s action plan, it is to some organisations. One wonders where they’ve been looking, then.

Leaving aside the theories on why dementia patients are given a ‘chemical cosh’ – from misunderstanding the nature of dementia to making care home staff’s life easier – it has been clear for years that it needed to be tackled and that government action was necessary.

Now it’s here, the action plan does have some good points; improving access to psychological therapy – many care homes see little of local psychotherapists – and ensuring health and social care professionals have the skills to care for sometimes difficult dementia patients.

For me, these are the keys to success. Other measures, such as implementing local targets to cut antipsychotic drug use and the appointment of a National Clinical Director for Dementia, seem rather superfluous; it has to be the expertise of those on the frontline to care for people with dementia and improving access to therapies that helps cut the use of drugs and the premature deaths of thousands each year.

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