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Dementia needs awareness campaign

The Department of Health (DoH) should urge local health organisations to develop a bespoke toolkit which boosts awareness and demonstrates the cost benefits of various options in diagnosing and treating patients with dementia, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). This is because the NHS is failing in its duty to diagnose and treat the UK's growing population of dementia sufferers with sufficient urgency, planning or support for carers.

The Department of Health (DoH) should urge local health organisations to develop a bespoke toolkit which boosts awareness and demonstrates the cost benefits of various options in diagnosing and treating patients with dementia, according to the Public Accounts Committee (PAC). This is because the NHS is failing in its duty to diagnose and treat the UK's growing population of dementia sufferers with sufficient urgency, planning or support for carers.

Based on evidence given by witnesses from the DoH and NHS, as well as a report produced by the head of the National Audit Office (NAO), the PAC concluded in its own report published on Jan 24 2008 that 'hospital staffÖ can fail to identify or deal with dementia as a disease, resulting in longer stays and poorer outcomes than for people who are psychiatrically well'.

MPs complained that current attitudes in the NHS towards dementia diagnosis, treatment and support are more than 50 years out of date, calling for the disease to be given the same gravitas - in terms of the current levels of awareness, perception and treatment - as cancer and heart disease. 

Communications campaign

Dementia currently costs the NHS some GBP14bn a year, yet alarmingly, the PAC notes, it has 'not been a priority'. The stigmas associated with mental health and conditions of the elderly present barriers to awareness, understanding and openness, and hence the report calls for greater awareness among healthcare professionals of the treatment options available, as well as more tact when giving a diagnosis. 

In response the NAO's report, the DoH is now developing a National Dementia Strategy, which the PAC insisted should include a clear timetable as well as 'an effective communication strategy to engage patient groups, health and social care professionals, the Royal colleges, health and social care inspectorates, and the voluntary sector, all of whom are essential to improving care for people with dementia'. Furthermore, it adds, the DoH should appoint a bespoke 'dementia tsar'; a single individual with the commitment and influence to drive through the strategy.

The model used by the NHS to deal with cancer would be a good starting point for the dementia strategy, it was suggested.

The number of dementia sufferers in England alone is set to soar by almost a third over the next decade and a half. The full PAC report is available online via: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm/cmpubacc.htm

24th January 2008

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