Poor standard of dementia care puts GPs off referrals

Dementia services in the UK are so poor that some GPs doubt whether referring patĀ­ients earlier for a formal diagnosis will improve their care, a senior GP has said.

Dr McKeown: debate is needed (Photograph: JH Lancy)
Dr McKeown: debate is needed (Photograph: JH Lancy)

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.’

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