Despite a steeply rising trend in cases of dementia, the condition is being given too low a priority by health and social services, according to a report out today by the National Audit Office.
Too few people are being diagnosed, or being diagnosed early enough, and early interventions known to be cost-effective are not being made widely available.
The report points out that dementia has not received the priority status from the DoH, the NHS or social care that it deserves. It has suffered historically from poor awareness and understanding, and there is a widely held perception that little can be done and a lack of urgency attached to diagnosing and treating the condition.
Only one-third to one-half of people with dementia ever receive a formal diagnosis, despite evidence that early diagnosis and intervention is cost-effective. In fact, the UK is in the bottom third of countries in Europe in terms of the percentage of dementia patients receiving anti-dementia drugs, and the average time taken to diagnose patients in the UK is up to twice as long as in some other countries.
Less than two thirds of GPs surveyed by the NAO felt that it was important to look actively for early symptoms of dementia and only 31 per cent felt they had enough training to diagnose and manage the disease. Half of the Community Mental Health Teams surveyed told the NAO that they felt acute hospital nurses were inadequately trained in dementia needs.
Whilst the NAO identified a number of examples of good practice, where people with dementia are receiving a high quality service, for many people there are gaps in their ability to access specialist skills and services in both the community and in care homes.
Head of the National Audit Office Sir John Bourn said today: 'Today's report shines a light on how significant an issue dementia is and how much scope there is to improve the way in which people who suffer from dementia are treated.
'Our rapidly ageing population means that costs for addressing dementia will continue to increase and, without redesign, services for people with dementia are likely to become increasingly inconsistent and unsustainable. Dementia can no longer be set aside. The issues raised in this report need to be addressed as a matter of urgency.'
Comment below and tell us what you think