Editorial: NHS is still failing patients with dementia

Is the NHS doing enough for people with dementia? Sadly, on the basis of recent evidence, the answer has to be 'no'.

Last year, a GP investigation revealed that one in four PCTs had closed or reduced dementia services in the previous three years and less than half had early detection services in place (GP, 24 October).

A separate investigation found that there had been a 10 per cent rise in the number of scrips for anti-psychotic medication between 2006 and 2008 (GP, 22 August). The general view was that this was because a lack of specialist services left GPs with little option but to prescribe the drugs.

Today, we exclusively reveal figures that show significant regional variation in both the prescribing of the acetylcholinesterase inhibitors used to treat Alzheimer's and the prescribing of anti-psychotics in patients with Alzheimer's.

This suggests that quality of treatment, access to services and possibly even rates of diagnosis, vary wildly across the country.

The figures also show that the UK is among the most infrequent users of anti-Alzheimer's treatments compared with similar European countries - for example, Spain's use of these drugs is 148 per cent above the UK's.

The researchers suggest that this could be the result of NICE's controversial recommendation to restrict the use of acetylcholinesterase inhibitors to those patients with moderate disease severity.

All of these figures paint a dismal picture. It is no wonder that those with Alzheimer's, their carers and campaigners are furious and feel let down by the NHS.

The DoH is, of course, taking steps to address some of these concerns. It launched a five-year dementia strategy for England in February, and Scotland plans to publish its own strategy later this year.

These offer fine words and admirable aims, but they must translate into action if lasting improvement to frontline services is to be achieved.

Only then can the NHS provide the level of care patients deserve.

More opinion online
Read more opinion from the GP editorial team in the editor's blog at www.healthcarerepublic.com/blogs. This is what the team had to say this week

  • "Nurse sacked 'for advising patients to go to church - It is too much to ask that NHS staff with religious convictions be given clearer guidance on advice they can give to patients?"
  • "DoH releases heatwave plan - While some of us were doing some 'blue-sky thinking', contemplating sunbathing, chilled rose, picnics, and barbies, the government was warning that 10,000 people could die in the predicted heatwave."

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