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Suffolk: Dementia patients need better access to services and doctors need better resources to give advice – report

12:04 04 April 2014

Official launch of the Forget-Me-Not Dementia Campaign at West Suffolk Hospital. Image of the corridor before work begins.

Official launch of the Forget-Me-Not Dementia Campaign at West Suffolk Hospital. Image of the corridor before work begins.

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People living with dementia in Suffolk need better access to support services, a report has claimed, after it emerged more than 5,000 sufferers live with the condition undiagnosed.

Doctors need better resources to provide good advice to newly-diagnosed dementia patients and double their current detection rate of the disease to meet new tougher government targets, the University of East Anglia (UEA) said.

The research, published today, found fewer than one in five GPs (19%) were confident in advising on local support services available to people with dementia and their carers.

Only one in three (29%) doctors agreed that there is little point of diagnosing dementia because the required level of support is not available.

The latest figures show that, in 2012, some 9,116 people in Suffolk lived with dementia, with 5,320 living with the condition undiagnosed – a 42% detection rate.

The figures from the Alzheimer’s Society also show that, by 2021, some 12,239 people in Suffolk will have dementia, with 7,099 expected to be living with the condition undiagnosed – a 58% detection rate.

However, Prime Minister David Cameron has ratcheted up the pressure on health services by setting them a target of reaching a 66% diagnosis rate by the end of March 2015.

The UEA research found that in the final quarter of last year, the average rate in Suffolk and Norfolk was 39.9%, below the national average of 45%.

Lead researcher Margaret Fox, from UEA’s school of rehabilitation sciences, said GPs in the region are “confident” in identifying cases of dementia for onward referral.

But while she said that they also recognise the benefits to patients and their carers of a timely dementia diagnosis at an early stage of the disease, GPs countywide need better resources to improve the support they provide to patients.

“They reported concerns about the quality and availability of support for people after they are diagnosed, and their families,” she said.

“The low diagnosis rate may reflect a lack of confidence among GPs in the availability of support services.

“The survey revealed that GPs need better resources so that they can provide good advice to newly diagnosed patients and help signpost them to existing services. We hope this would give doctors the confidence to increase diagnosis rates.

“This study has also identified a need to map the existing support services for people with dementia and to identify gaps in services. This could then be used to shape a strategy for improving services.”

More than 400 GPs from 108 practices in Norfolk and Suffolk were surveyed, with 113 responding.

The report recommended identifying areas that do not meet minimum standards of support and creating a regional database of local memory and post-diagnosis support services.

It also found only 54% of doctors said a satisfactory memory service was available in their area to diagnose patients with symptoms of dementia.

A spokesman for NHS Ipswich and East Suffolk Clinical Commissioning Group said it is “committed” to increasing the number of dementia diagnoses.

“One of our initiatives includes the introduction in April 2014, in partnership with the Norfolk and Suffolk Foundation Trust, of a new Early Intervention Memory Service.

“It will address the issue of under diagnosis of dementia, with an anticipated 1,500 diagnoses each year.

“This will be achieved through the establishment of 10 new dementia clinics based in GP surgeries and allow diagnosis, care and treatment of patients closer to home.”

• The EADT, in conjunction with West Suffolk Hospital, is running the Forget Me Not campaign to raise awareness and help improve care for patients. Click here for more.

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