Despite solid evidence for the benefits of earlier diagnosis, GPs are disillusioned with the lack of services to which they can refer dementia patients.
A GP investigation this month found that memory assessment centres, the first-line services in dementia care, are severely underfunded in parts of the UK (GP, 7 March).
Dr Helena McKeown, BMA community care committee chairwoman, said: ‘We need a debate about the purpose and benefits of diagnosis.
‘Not all of us share the view that to get a diagnosis of dementia earlier is necessarily better. I understand those who don’t see the benefit. Until we can offer more to these patients, I can understand why some don’t support it.’
But Dr McKeown said an early diagnosis can improve patients’ future care and urged GPs to refer ‘so people can plan for joined-up care while they can still decide’.
Convincing doubters relies on the NHS improving support services, she argued.
Her comments came as a dementia expert called on the WHO to declare dementia as great a health priority as cancer and heart disease.
Professor Peter Piot, director of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: ‘Dementia is one of the largest neglected global health challenges. What we must learn from the AIDS movement is that by investing now, we will save later.’