Every Hospital In England To Get Senior Dementia Specialist

A senior doctor is to be put in charge of overseeing dementia care in every hospital in England as part of a government drive to improve diagnosis and treatment of the condition.

Alan Johnson, the Health Secretary, and Phil Hope, the Care Services Minister, unveiled yesterday the long-awaited National Dementia Strategy to address clinical and care shortfalls.

Among the 17 recommendations to be set out by the Health Secretary are the appointment of a senior senior clinician in every hospital and care home to ensure that the needs of dementia sufferers are met. Other measures include the setting up of dozens of “memory clinics” for dementia sufferers — including the provision of behavioural therapy and support for carers — and better training programmes for GPs.

Mr Johnson also outlined plans to provide more support to carers with the aim of preventing or delaying the admission of sufferers to care homes. But a review of the use of anti-psychotic drugs — one of the most controversial aspects of caring for people with dementia in care homes — will not be published until the spring.

The strategy comes in response to growing concerns over the lack of effective diagnosis and treatment for a condition suffered by more than 700,000 Britons, most of whom have Alzheimer’s disease. The number of sufferers is expected to double in the next 30 years as people live longer.

Of the estimated 575,000 living with dementia in England, only 220,000 are registered with the NHS and social services.

Mr Johnson has said that the condition must be discussed more openly to end the stigma and “cruel humour” surrounding it.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, described the strategy as an ambitious five-year plan to transform the lives of those living with a devastating condition and “avert a crisis crisis that could overwhelm the NHS and social care”.

He added: “There is a long way to go to drag dementia care out of the dark ages but this announcement is a huge opportunity.Too often we hear from families left to battle dementia alone.”

Mr Hunt said that plans to appoint lead clinicians in hospitals and care homes could transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

“Over two thirds of people in care homes have dementia. Improving care could reduce hospital admissions, length of stays in hospitals and transform the quality of care being delivered.”

One in three people over 65 would die with dementia but there was currently a “systematic failure” to provide good dementia care in the UK, he added.

The Alzheimer’s Research Trust welcomed the strategy but said there was little in it focusing on dementia research.

Rebecca Wood, the trust’s chief executive, said that it was only a “first step” and far too much had been left out.

“It is astonishing that dementia research is not a fundamental component of this strategy, and disappointing that the review of anti-psychotic drugs has been delayed yet again. It is not clear if sufficient funds will be made available to fulfil what is included in the strategy.”

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said that the condition was one of the most important issues for an ageing population.

“[The strategy] will set out how we can transform services, through a combination of better training, earlier intervention and real support for people with dementia and their families,” she said.

Bupa has almost 7,000 people with dementia in its 300 UK care homes, and around 75 per cent are state-funded.

Graham Stokes, head of mental health for Bupa Care Services, said that the company was working with the Alzheimer’s Society to deliver a specialist dementia lead worker in its care homes during 2009.

“I welcome the principle of the strategy but the Government is still in danger of failing people with dementia and their families,” Dr Stokes added. “Early diagnosis is welcome. But it also means more people will be identified as living with dementia — and for longer.

“They and their families need help from specialist outreach advisors who can help them to access appropriate support throughout the changing stages of dementia.

“This needs real extra resources and new ways of working if the strategy is to deliver the step-change in care that has been promised. The danger is that without a coherent, fully funded strategy the Government risks devaluing and failing to respect people with dementia.”