The drive to improve diagnosis rates acompanies the publication of a progress report, which sets out achievements since the Prime Minister announced his Dementia Challenge last year.
The number of people diagnosed with dementia has increased by 10% in the past year, but currently only around 45% of people with dementia have been diagnosed, and this varies widely in different parts of the country – in some areas diagnosis rates are just 32%. NHS England aims to increase diagnosis rates to 67% throughout the country by 2015.
Highlighting the importance of early diagnosis in planning for end of life, Eve Richardson, chief executive of the National Council for Palliative Care (NCPC) and the Dying Matters Coalition, said: “Early diagnosis of the disease is especially important as there’s a window of opportunity, whilst people with dementia still have capacity, for them to discuss their future care and support with those close to them and to make plans including for the end of their life.
“It’s rarely easy to begin conversations about end of life care, but speaking openly about the future can improve quality of life throughout the progress of the illness and allow people to get their wishes met.”
Jeremy Hughes, chief executive of Alzheimer’s Society, also welcomed the ambition to improve diagnosis rates: “There is surely no other condition where we would tolerate people living without treatments, without support and in the dark about what is happening to them. This is exactly what is faced by the 54% of people with dementia who never receive a diagnosis. This ambition from the NHS to significantly improve diagnosis rates in two years demonstrates real leadership. It is a key step in improving the lives of people with dementia.”
The drive to improve diagnosis will be led by local clinical commissioning groups working with local health and wellbeing boards and supported by NHS England.
Dementia and end of life care
The NCPC has been working with partners for many years to ensure that end of life care and dementia agendas are joined up. In the past year it has produced guidance on managing pain and distress for people with dementia approaching the end of life and a training DVD to help GPs to initiate and continue conversations about end of life care with people affected by dementia.
Eve added: “We look forward to continuing to work to ensure that people with dementia are able to receive excellent end of life care as part of the Dementia Challenge.
“There’s still a long way to go until everyone with dementia receives an early diagnosis and the care and support that is right for them, but there are encouraging signs that things are moving in the right direction. We are especially pleased that progress is being made with recruiting dementia friends, and hope that as part of their induction and training they will all be given information on the importance of planning for the end of life.”