Doctors 'failing the elderly on dementia': Hunt blames 'grim fatalism' for low diagnosis rate
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said GPs are refusing to send patients for crucial tests to spot dementia because they believe there is no pointFigures revealed nearly 400,000 dementia sufferers in Britain have never been given a formal diagnosis
01:03 GMT, 15 January 2013
10:09 GMT, 15 January 2013
'Grim fatalism': Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt says GPs are refusing to send patients for crucial tests to spot dementia because they believe there is no point
GPs are refusing to send patients for crucial tests to spot dementia because they believe there is no point, according to the Health Secretary.
Jeremy Hunt blames shockingly low diagnosis rates on a ‘grim fatalism’ among doctors coupled with an ignorance of symptoms.
His comments came as figures revealed nearly 400,000 dementia sufferers in Britain have never been given a formal diagnosis.
The statistics obtained by the Alzheimer’s Society also found some NHS trusts are spotting only a third of all cases.
Mr Hunt said: ‘As with cancer in the past, too many health professionals are not aware of the symptoms. Some even believe that without effective cure there is no point putting people through the anxiety of a memory test – even though drugs can help stave off the condition for several years.
‘It is a grim fatalism we need to shake off. Not just within our Health Service but in society as a whole.’
If dementia sufferers are given drugs such as Aricept and Ebixa early enough, the progression can be slowed by a year – possibly longer.
Patients and their loved ones can also be offered vital care and support to help them come to terms with the debilitating illness. But writing in the Daily Telegraph, Mr Hunt said: ‘It can be a total nightmare getting a diagnosis and the result is that shockingly, only 46 per cent of all dementia cases are identified.
‘Yet with access to the right drugs and support for a partner, someone can live happily and healthily at home for much longer.
‘We should be ashamed that we deny this to so many people in today’s NHS.’
The figures obtained by the Alzheimer’s Society show huge variation in the standards of dementia services across Britain.
Not aware of symptoms: Figures revealed nearly 400,000 dementia sufferers in Britain have never been given a formal diagnosis and some NHS trusts are spotting only a third of all cases of dementia
In at least two primary care trusts, Wiltshire and Swindon, patients are being made to wait nine months before being seen at a memory clinic. Experts recommend that if a GP suspects a patient has dementia, they should only have to wait a maximum of six weeks for an appointment at one of these centres.
And five NHS trusts are only managing to diagnose a third of all dementia patients.
They include East Riding of Yorkshire, Dorset, North East Essex, and Kensington and Chelsea and Harrow in London.
Using Freedom of information requests, the Alzheimer’s Society asked every primary care trust and health authority for the numbers of patients diagnosed for dementia last year.
They then compared this figure with the estimated number of people likely to be living with the condition to work out what percentage had been diagnosed.
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of the Alzheimer’s Society, said: ‘It’s disgraceful that almost half of all people with dementia are not receiving a diagnosis, and disappointing to see such a disparity in diagnosis rates in different regions of the UK.’