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Spotlight on elderly care: NHS 'dementia atlas' reveals inconsistency in standard of care across England

Posted: 18/08/2016

A recently published Department of Health 'dementia atlas' tool has revealed a shocking postcode lottery in the care of those with dementia in England. The aim of publishing the dementia atlas tool was, in the words of health secretary Jeremy Hunt, to “shine a spotlight” on the areas of the country with the worst performance with a view to driving up standards across the country. 

Current figures show that there are 676,000 people living with dementia, most of whom are elderly, in England. The data has served to highlight the extent to which people with this degenerative condition are being let down by the NHS. The dementia atlas maps five different areas of care: prevention, diagnosis, support, living with dementia, and end of life care, and sets benchmarks for each area. Although the Government hopes to see positive changes from this new initiative, opponents have been more cynical of the picture painted by the atlas. 

Norman Lamb, Liberal Democrat health spokesperson commented in strong terms: “This is yet more evidence of the NHS and the care system on its knees. We are the sixth largest economy in the world and yet we are letting down very vulnerable people in a completely unacceptable way.” 

John McNamara, head of policy and public affairs at The Alzheimer’s Society, has called for an urgent exploration of why the needs of people with dementia "are escalating to this point and what can be done in the community to prevent crisis admissions amongst this vulnerable group." Mr McNamara also called for hospitals to be "more transparent and accountable" and to publish an annual statement on their dementia care.

It is clear from looking at the figures for emergency hospital admissions for dementia across England that there is a wide variation with numbers ranging from 1,840 for every 100,000 people aged over 65 to 6,046 for every 100,000 people aged over 65. 

The atlas also tracks the number of “dementia friends” across the country. These are people who have been specially trained to understand the needs of patients with dementia and to turn this understanding into action within their local community. The atlas highlights that, although there as many as 8,000 “dementia friends” available to support patients in some areas, there are none at all in other areas. 

In terms of treatment provided, the benchmark is that every person living with dementia should have a face-to-face annual check-up to review their particular care needs. However, the atlas has highlighted that, although around 85% of patients receive these in areas such as Aylesbury and North East Lincolnshire, the percentage falls to just 50% in Somerset. Mr McNamara emphasised the significance of these annual reviews: “They are extremely important given that dementia is a progressive condition and a person’s needs become more severe over time”. 

Camilla Wonnacott, associate in the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “It is vital that standards of dementia care are maintained across England. We receive many enquiries from the families of elderly patients where the care of a loved one who suffers from dementia has fallen short of basic standards. The outcome can be unnecessary injury to an elderly and vulnerable patient, not to mention the distress to their family."

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