Dementia Should Be A National Health Priority

The Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry of the Royal College of Psychiatrists wholeheartedly supports the report of the National Audit Office which calls for dementia to be treated as a national health priority, the need to develop a co-ordinated case managed process and the conclusion that dementia presents an urgent challenge to health and social care.

Dr David Anderson, chair of the Faculty of Old Age Psychiatry, commented: “I am sure that people with dementia, their carers and the professionals they work with will receive the Audit Commission report with great acclaim,” “However, with the rapidly rising number of sufferers, there has never been a more pressing need. This is a major health problem that the country must address.”

“It is a terrible indictment of a developed country’s response to this desperately serious condition that, until 2005 the Department of Health has shown dementia little attention, that the UK is in the bottom 3rd in Europe for access to anti-dementia drugs (NICE now having reduced access further), that up to 50% of patients are not diagnosed and only 1/3 of GP’s have adequate local specialist support,” continued Dr Anderson.

“The report also confirms that people with dementia receive poor quality domiciliary care and uncoordinated services. The Department’s target of integrated health and social care has never been met, and amounts to terrible neglect of such a disabling condition.”

“The Faculty is also pleased that the report draws attention to the very serious situation in acute hospitals where dementia is poorly recognized and managed, and where there is lack of access to specialist older people’s mental health liaison teams. Yet, 30% of older people admitted to acute hospitals have dementia, 50% of delayed discharges are people with dementia and lingering in acute hospitals exposes people with dementia to serious risk.”

Dr David Anderson continued “The report makes clear that early diagnosis and intervention is cost effective, a point conceded by the Department of Health, yet we are failing to provide it. So many treatment strategies just aren’t available to most patients and carers. This report really illustrates the folly of cutting services to patients and the restriction of access to early treatment that we have witnessed over the last 12 months.”

“There now exists a wonderful opportunity to address the imperative of dementia but the Department of Health must give a clear and unambiguous steer to commissioners on the priority status of the condition and commissioners must create more robust commissioning arrangements with providers of health and social care.”

The College would welcome an invitation from the Department of Health to work with them and other key organizations to develop genuinely first class services for people with dementia and their carers.