Hancock has been urged to ensure the brand of lithium being prescribed for the patients with bipolar disorder remains available for the treatment and avert a huge rise in price the NHS pays for the drug (REUTERS/John Sibley/File Photo)

Pharmacists, GPs, psychiatrists and patients have urged health secretary Matt Hancock to stop withdrawing a brand of lithium – Priadel.

Hancock has been urged to ensure the brand of lithium being prescribed for the patients with bipolar disorder remains available for the treatment and avert a huge rise in price the NHS pays for the drug.

The drug is due to be withdrawn in April 2021.

Essential Pharma own the rights to Priadel, a brand of lithium which is relied on by patients and is a low cost to the NHS.

The company has already announced that it is withdrawing the brand and has increased the price of the other main brand of the drug, Camcolit which it also owns.

One in a hundred people have bipolar disorder and one in five of these take lithium to treat the mental illness.

“Switching treatment can destabilize patients, risking either the medicine becoming less effective, or building to toxic levels causing severe side-effects including kidney damage,” the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) said, commenting on the impact of the potential withdrawal of the drug.

“It therefore requires added reviews, extra tests and close monitoring of patients, increasing pressure on primary care and mental health services already over-stretched by the pandemic,” the pharmacy body added.

Dr Ian Maidment, spokesperson for the RPS and Reader in Clinical Pharmacy at Aston University, said: “Withdrawing Priadel could put thousands of patients at unnecessary risk of harm. Being unable to get the same brand and dose will affect the physical and mental health of many. We want the Secretary of State to personally intervene to maintain supplies of Priadel so patients with bipolar disorder can still get this vital medicine.”

Ciara Ni Dhubhlaing, president of the College of Mental Health Pharmacy, said: “Pharmacists are already reporting stock shortages and we are deeply concerned about the withdrawal of this essential treatment for this vulnerable patient group. This will cost the NHS millions more each year at a time when finances and services are already stretched due Covid-19.”

Priadel currently costs £4.02 for a pack of 400mg tablets. Camcolit, the other brand of lithium owned by Essential Pharma, costs almost 12 times more at £48.18 per pack of 400mg tablets.

In direct drug costs alone, it’s estimated that this will cost the NHS approximately £15 million annually.

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