Covid-19 and ‘patchy’ funding sees Dementia diagnosis fall below NHS target for first time in five years

The percentage of suspected dementia sufferers receiving a formal diagnosis has fallen to its lowest in England in five years, new figures suggest.

NHS England guidance gives a target for two-thirds of people suspected of having dementia to be officially diagnosed with the condition.

But data from the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities shows just 61.6% of people thought to have dementia were formally diagnosed in 2021 – based on an indicator that predicts the expected number of dementia cases in people aged 65 or over.

This was down from 67.4% in 2020.

Prior to the pandemic, NHS England had met its target every year since data was first published in 2017.

Zena Aldridge, from Dementia UK, said a lack of funding has led to “patchy” diagnosis rates, and that Covid-19 had an even greater impact, with face-to-face GP appointments reduced and memory assessment services scaled back or closed.

Thousands of families are stuck in limbo as they wait for a diagnosis, she added, with periods of isolation meaning friends and family have missed possible symptoms.

Ms Aldridge said: “Although there is no cure for dementia, receiving a diagnosis early on enables the person to plan for their future and seek appropriate support.

“We urgently need to address this imbalance by investing in quality dementia specialist care.”

Across England, 415,778 people were formally diagnosed with dementia in 2021, down from 454,599 the year before.

Stoke-on-Trent CCG had the highest diagnosis rate at 78.9%, while Herefordshire and Worcestershire CCG had the lowest at just 50.6%.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to fix the adult social care crisis in his Conservative Party Conference speech in October, with a particular focus on provisions against dementia.

Last month, the Government said it will be producing a dementia strategy this year.

Gavin Terry, head of policy at Alzheimer’s Society, estimated there are around 35,000 people living with dementia who would have been diagnosed had the pandemic not happened.

Mr Terry said: “Covid has had a devastating impact on people affected by dementia.

He urged the Government to publish a “clear recovery plan” and provide more than £70 million of investment to tackle the backlog over the next two years, to reach the national diagnosis target.

The Department for Health and Social Care allocated £17 million in funding to NHS England and Improvement last year to addressing falling dementia diagnosis rates and provide greater pre and post-diagnostic support to dementia sufferers and their carers.

A spokesperson said the Government recognises the impact Covid-19 has had on dementia diagnosis rates, but added it has “set out a blueprint to address backlogs built up during the pandemic and tackle long waits with a massive expansion in capacity for tests, checks and treatments.”

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