HUNDREDS of Alzheimer's disease sufferers in Huddersfield could be denied vital treatment to cut costs, an expert has warned.
Huddersfield University Professor Stephen Curran has criticised proposals which would see people with early stages of the disease denied access to drugs.
Viewers of TV's Coronation Street have witnessed the sad decline of character Mike Baldwin, played by Johnny Briggs, who has fallen victim to Alzheimer's disease.
On Friday the popular character will be seen dying cradled by Ken Barlow, played by William Roache. But it's not the debilitating disease that kills him, it is a heart attack brought on by pneumonia.
As yet there is no cure for Alzheimer's which is the most common cause of dementia in older people.
But early treatment, which costs as little as £2.50 a day, can prevent symptoms getting worse and help prolong a patient's quality of life.
Recommendations, from the National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE), would mean patients are only entitled to treatment once their condition had deteriorated from mild to moderate severity.
Prof Curran, of the university's ageing and mental health research group, said it was essential patients identified with early stages of the disease received treatment.
He said research had shown significant improvements when treated with the drugs donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine.
And he said NICE had accepted these medications to be "worthwhile" in 2001.
"Given these improvements why should these treatments be denied to patients?
"It presents a daunting prospect of essentially no pharmacological treatment available for early Alzheimer's disease."
Prof Curran said the lack of treatment would mean further burdens on carers and health services.
And he said it was all about saving money.
"Those with Alzheimer's dementia will be seen as an easy target for cost savings despite the fact that this group of sufferers are very vulnerable.
"Policies, such as this proposal, can be seen as serving to stigmatise those affected by Alzheimer's disease, as a group of people unworthy of access to pharmacological treatment.
"Surely those with Alzheimer's disease and their carers deserve these proven pharmacological treatments."
Prof Curran runs Wakefield memory service and is involved with a similar team of specialists in Huddersfield.
He said, between the two groups, there are around 1,000 new referrals every year.
NICE is currently consulting on the these proposals.
Andrew Dillon, NICE Chief Executive, said: "We are acutely aware of our responsibility to help people with Alzheimer's disease secure access to effective treatment."
NICE is expected to issue final guidance to the NHS in July 2006.
Janet Dudley, manager of the Huddersfield Alzheimer's Society, said: "They are denying drugs to people who will benefit.
"It is the only illness I know where someone has to get worse before they are treated.
"It will discourage early diagnosis, something we in Huddersfield have been fighting for years.
"It will encourage people to try to `use' the system presenting themselves as less able just to ensure they receive the treatment."
She added: "It will make more work for health staff as they will have to monitor people in the early stages to ensure they catch them when they fall within the guidelines.
"Prescribing treatments in the earlier stages can help people with dementia and their family to retain a better quality for longer, often helping carers cope with their caring role for longer."
* Scientists do not yet understand fully what causes Alzheimer's Disease.
* There are several factors, including family history, but age is the main contributor.
* Alzheimer's disease is the most common cause of dementia in older people.
* About 500,000 people are affected in the UK.
* The number of patients with dementia is expected to double over the next 50 years.
* There is no known cure.
* The disorder is terminal within three to seven years.
* One new dementia case is identified every seven seconds.
* The disease is named after Dr Alois Alzheimer (above), a German doctor who in 1906 noticed changes in the brain tissue of a woman who had died from a mental illness.
* Dr Alzheimer was born in 1864 in Markbreit in Bavaria, Southern Germany. He died in 1915 and was buried in the Jewish cemetery in Frankfurt am Main.