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Care home training programme aims to reduce antipsychotic prescriptions

Published 16 June 2012

Thousands of people with dementia could be protected from being inappropriately prescribed dangerous antipsychotic drugs thanks to a new Alzheimer’s Society care home training programme.

The Focussed Intervention Training and Support (FITS) programme is being supported by £100,000 investment each from the Department of Health and HC-One care home group. An initial trial found the programme reduced the use of antipsychotics in care homes by 50 per cent. These drugs which are inappropriately prescribed to 144,000 people with dementia double the risk of death, treble the risk of stroke and can leave people unable to walk or talk.

This innovative new programme is set to benefit more than 5,000 people with dementia as it is rolled out to 150 care homes across the UK. This includes 100 homes from the HC-One care home group, which took over a third of the homes from Southern Cross when it went bankrupt. With two thirds of people in care homes having dementia, it is estimated that this programme could also benefit many thousand more future residents.

Professor Clive Ballard, Director of Research at Alzheimer's Society, said:

'Finding a way to end the unacceptable levels of inappropriate antipsychotic prescriptions to people with dementia is an urgent priority we all have to address. If we don't, many thousand more people will have their health and quality of life put at risk. 

'FITS has the potential to have a huge impact. By empowering staff with the knowledge they need to understand dementia and the person behind the condition it will help them to provide good quality, individually tailored care. Only then can we ensure that antipsychotics are a last resort and that people with dementia are supported to live their life with dignity and respect.'

Paul Burstow, Care Services Minister, said:

'Far too many people with dementia are robbed of part of their lives because they are needlessly given antipsychotics. In order to reduce this we need to make sure staff working with people with dementia understand the condition so they are able to treat the person, not just address the symptoms. That's why we've put £100,000 towards this vital project.

'The Prime Minister's Dementia Challenge, has set out the Coalition's plans to make the UK a world leader in dementia care. Projects such as FITs will be vital to achieving that.'

Dr Chai Patel, Chairman of HC-One, said:

'As the third largest care provider for older people in the UK whose mission is to provide the kindest care in the country, and given how we believe staff training and development is core to us delivering that, HC-One is delighted to be part of this step change in individually tailored care working in partnership with Alzheimer's Society and the University of Worcester.

'We will be rolling out training to nurses at one hundred of our 241 homes in the first instance, with the aim of making every home as good as the best.'

Staff in care homes across the country will receive training from the University of Worcester's Association for Dementia Studies, which has been commissioned by Alzheimer's Society to carry out the training of 'dementia champions'. The intensive 10-day training programme will increase understanding and awareness of dementia and provide tools, ideas and resources to enable staff to provide good quality person-centred care. This will include simple things like using residents' life stories to enable staff to provide care that incorporates past hobbies such as baking or painting into life in the care homes. The dementia champions will then be responsible for passing this training on to other staff working within the homes. It is expected that the first homes will start implementing the training in October.

The initial Alzheimer's Society trial of the FITS programme, led by Professor Rob Howard of King's College London was carried out in 2003-2004. It involved 349 people with dementia with behavioural symptoms in 12 nursing homes. After 12 months, the number of people on antipsychotics in the intervention homes was considerably lower (23 per cent) compared to the control homes (42.1 per cent). There were also found to be no significant differences in the levels of agitated or disruptive behaviour.