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H O U S E   OF   C O M M O N S

APPGITA - All Party Parliamentary Group for
Involuntary Tranquilliser Addiction

House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA

Letter from Jim Dobbin MP to
The Rt Hon Gillian Merron MP
March 18, 2010

March 18, 2010

Gillian Merron MP
Minister of State
Department of Health
Richmond House
79 Whitehall
London SW1A 2NS

Dear Gillian,

Thank you for your letter dated 03.03.2010 and the enclosed terms of reference for the Department of Health review of addiction to medicines and the National Addiction Centre review of published evidence. Unfortunately I have to point out that the terminology in annex B still refers to "misuse" rather than involuntary addiction. As I have explained before this language is regarded as insulting and discriminatory by involuntary tranquilliser addicts.

Firstly I would like to draw your attention to the case of Mr. Keith Andrews of Oldham. Mr. Andrews is 74 years old and a retired engineer. He has been involuntarily addicted to prescribed tranquillisers for 45 years. He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease and spent more than 10 weeks recently as an in-patient in a psychiatric hospital at a cost to the health service of about 5,000 per week. The tranquilliser withdrawal clinic in Oldham, provided by the Alcohol and Drug Service (ADS) and funded by the Primary Care Trust, identified Mr Andrews as suffering from tranquilliser addiction and side effects and have supported him in withdrawal. Mr Andrews "Parkinson's" has disappeared, it was not Parkinson's at all but misdiagnosed tranquilliser side effects. The ADS tranquilliser clinic in Oldham has a yearly budget of 60,000. It is not hard to see that the savings made for the health service by this one case will probably cover the clinic's total annual funding.

Mr. Andrews case demonstrates:

  1. The extreme cost effectiveness of tranquilliser withdrawal services.

  2. The hidden burden placed upon the NHS by involuntary tranquilliser addiction.

  3. The waste and misery caused to ordinary working people by these drugs.

  4. That major long term malfunctions exist in the systems of the NHS.

Secondly, I would like to draw your attention to the case of Caroline Steward of Luton who has also been an involuntary tranquilliser addict for many years. Kelvin Hopkins, Ms Steward's MP and a member of the APPGITA, has made representations to you on Ms Steward's behalf concerning the lack of medical treatment, support and rehabilitation available from the NHS. In your reply to Mr Hopkins (09.02.2010) you urge Ms Steward to contact CITA, the Council for Information on Tranquillisers and Anti-Depressants, for helpful advice. Mr Hopkin's letter to you explained that Ms Steward has seizures, heart problems, dystonia, liver and kidney damage as side effects of her prescribed medication. Sadly Ms Steward's injuries are beyond the stage at which she is able to benefit from telephone withdrawal counselling. CITA support would have been appropriate for Ms Steward 20 years ago, CITA's work is designed to prevent people suffering such injuries from prescribed drugs. In previous correspondence the APPGITA has argued that regional residential prescribed medication clinics are appropriate for patients in Ms Stewards condition.

The CITA helpline is staffed by unpaid volunteers who have no medical qualification. Office and telephone expenses are paid with difficulty by charitable donation. The NHS have a responsibility to treat Ms Steward for any illness and an additional responsibility in that Ms Stewards illnesses were created by the NHS. It is completely unfair to Ms Steward and CITA for the NHS to pass on its responsibilities in this way.

I believe Pam Armstrong of CITA recently contacted your review manager Anne Grosskurth to ask if NHS funding could be made available so that the helpline can continue to operate. In view of CITA's invaluable work I would be grateful if you will consider asking the Department of Health to provide CITA with emergency interim funding.

I believe that it was an entirely appropriate course of action to make a complaint to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Involuntary tranquiliser addicts have suffered many years of discrimination from the Department of Health and the Department of Works and Pensions, as described in my original complaint. There is no assessment of Human Rights or equality issues included in the terms of reference of the current reviews. Also the process of the review has become discriminatory in that patients have been excluded from participation and similarly the APPGITA has not been consulted at the political level, despite my repeated requests for meetings.

With regard to public engagement by the review and the contacts you refer to between officials and CITA and BAT this does not amount to "liaising with patient groups". CITA and BAT are not patient groups, they are withdrawal charities, a completely different thing. Their patients are in early withdrawal and often suffering severe and painful withdrawal symptoms as a result of mind altering drugs, including cognitive impairments. Their understanding of the drugs and the scientific, medical, regulatory and political issues involved will be low. The Deparment of Health is misdirecting itself in identifying contacts with withdrawal charities as representative of the patients voice.

Many ex-tranquilliser addicts have written to the Department of Health over the years providing information based on their own experience and subsequent research into this problem. I would like to suggest that you contact each of those listed below in order to obtain input from informed patients for the review:

Ernest Alley, Anne Langan, Keith Andrew, Ray Nimmo, Jane Baldwin, Carol Packer, Michael Behan, Heather Park, Steve Bell, Jenny Robinson, Sue Bibby, Gill Stevens, Heather Carberry, June Thistlethwaite, Val Ely, John Perrott, Jackie Gillard, Denis Veale, Barry Haslam, Baylissa Frederick, Paula Kovacs.

The DH has corresponded with these people previously, contact details are also available from my office if required.

Finally, involuntary tranquilliser addict John Perrott of Lancaster wrote to Mike O'Brien on 18.02.2009 concerning his 35 year addiction to Ativan and the lack of withdrawal services in his area. Dora East replied on behalf of the Department of Health. Please can you provide me with further details of this very important and necessary work which, is supported by the APPG.

The Department will also be working with the MHRA to determine whether prescribing guidelines need to be revised and whether information for patients needs to be updated and strengthened.

Kind regards

Jim Dobbin MP

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