The Alzheimer’s Society has come under fire from a senior doctor who has accused it of working too closely with the pharmaceutical industry in contesting the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence’s partial ban on the use of dementia treatments on the NHS.

Drugs company Eisai challenged NICE in the High Court in June this year with support from fellow drugs firm Pfizer and the Alzheimer's Society after the rationing body ruled that the medicines - donepezil, rivastigmine and galantamine - were not cost effective enough for general use.

The Alzheimer’s Society, drugs companies and many doctors argued that the decision process was flawed and did not take into account the benefits to carers.

However, the alliance lost, and the court’s decision was upheld on 10 August.

And now, writing in this week’s BMJ, Professor Iain Chalmers of the James Lind Initiative in Oxford, reproaches the patient group for its Alliance with industry.

Prof Chalmers, who is also an adviser to NICE, said that it was “disturbing” that, in response to the legal judgement, the society’s chief executive questioned whether NICE had lost public confidence. In addition, he suggested that the patient group’s own standing might be eroded by aligning itself so closely with the pharmaceutical industry.

Campaign for 'meaningful' outcomes

And he added that the group should spend more time campaigning for dementia treatments to be evaluated using outcomes that were meaningful to patients and carers.

In addition, he said that the organisation should campaign for data from clinical trials to be published, and for anonymised data for individual patients to be made available, so that researchers can identify which patients are most likely to be helped by treatments and which patients are unlikely to benefit or may even be harmed.

“These steps would be more effective and enduring ways for the Alzheimer’s Society to serve the interests of people with dementia and their carers than forming alliances with organisations with vested commercial interests to take a public body to court,” he said.

His criticism provoked an angry response from the Alzheimer’s Society.

“Iain Chalmers makes inaccurate claims about the Alzheimer’s Society’s campaign for access to drug treatments that a simple call to the Society would have laid bare,” said Andrew Ketteringham, Director of External Communications for the charity.

Mr Ketteringham noted that in the organisation’s response to the 2004 Health Select Committee inquiry into the influence of the pharmaceutical industry, he and his colleagues highlighted “serious concerns relating to the influence of the pharmaceutical industry over the publication of clinical trial data.”

“He can rest assured that the Alzheimer’s Society has and will continue to campaign in the best interests of people with dementia and carers with integrity, transparency and commitment," he said.