Friday, December 09, 2005

Like turning the light back on

This week's House Points column from Liberal Democrat News. The Guardian article I mention can be found here.

Drugged up

This week we are all supposed to be against Punch and Judy politics. So let's look at one of the more constructive elements of Westminster life.

Short adjournment debates are held at the close of each day's business. They give MPs the chance to raise any topic. Most confine themselves to constituency interests - on Monday you could have thrilled to "Health Services (West Cumbria)" - but some set their sights higher. Tuesday evening saw Paul Burstow, the Lib Dem MP for Sutton and Cheam, raise the overprescription of drugs to older people.

In a world where the papers are constantly excited by the prospect of new wonder cures, it sounds odd to question giving older people medication. As Paul said, getting it right "can be like turning the light back on".

But sometimes the health service does not get it right. Since 2002, Paul said, there has been a 35% increase in non-fatal adverse drug reactions amongst people aged over 75. The figure for fatal reactions is even worse. They have gone up by 83% over the same period.

Paul has long been campaigning against the use of medication in care homes as a "chemical straitjacket". But problems can arise in many other settings as older people are often on several different kinds of drug.

The answer lies in medication reviews, yet these are often not held often enough or not held at all. Only 8% of primary care trusts meet the national service framework standard of annual reviews for patients over 75. And just 5% meet the target of a review every six months for those on four or more different drugs.

It is not only older people who can be drugged too much. An article in the Guardian on the day of Paul's speech reported that around 7 million schoolchildren in the US - nearly one in five - have been diagnosed with attention problems and put on Ritalin. This figure continues to soar, and the drug is routinely prescribed to children as young as two. In Britain, Ritalin prescriptions rose from 2,000 in 1991 to 359,000 in 2004.

Sorry to be serious this week, but it is a good cause. And remember: we Liberal Democrats are against Punch and Judy politics. Unlike the other two parties.

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