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Dramatic variation in dementia diagnosis across UK

Published 14 January 2013

New figures released by Alzheimer’s Society reveal wide variations in how many people are receiving a diagnosis of dementia in Britain.

Diagnosis rates range from 31.6 per cent in East Riding of Yorkshire to 75.5 per cent in Belfast.

There has been a 3 per cent increase in the number of people in the UK that have been diagnosed with dementia raising the number of people who now have a formal diagnosis to 46 per cent. However, there are thought to be another 428,000 in the UK (54 per cent people) who are living with the condition but who are not diagnosed.

Alzheimer’s Society has produced an interactive map alzheimers.org.uk/dementiamap  which highlights the number of people who have a diagnosis of dementia in different Primary Care Trusts in the UK.

To investigate the quality of assessment people with dementia are receiving, Alzheimer’s Society surveyed memory clinics in the UK. Two thirds of all PCTs responded. Evidence indicated that 27 memory services are accredited, which is 11 per cent of all clinics in the UK. The survey showed the average waiting time for an appointment is 32.5 working days, which is over the 4-6 weeks (recommended by Memory Service National Accreditation Programme). Some memory clinics reported longer waiting times of up to 9 months.

Jeremy Hughes, Chief Executive at Alzheimer’s Society said:

'It’s disgraceful that more than 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. This goes against best clinical practice and is preventing people with dementia from accessing the support, benefits and the medical treatments that can help them live well with the condition. Studies show that an early diagnosis can save the taxpayer thousands of pounds, because it can delay someone needing care outside of their own home. The NHS has already made a commitment to improving diagnosis rates but more needs to be done to ensure people with dementia are able to live as well as possible with the disease.'

Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health said:

'The small improvement in dementia diagnosis is good news, but the extreme variation across the country is unacceptable. It’s time for the worst performing areas to wake up to the dementia time bomb. While many areas do excellent work, the worst is diagnosing just a third of people with dementia - delaying vital treatment and causing unnecessary suffering.

'I have committed to making this a year of dementia awareness. I will shortly visit every region, encouraging those responsible to make a difference. I want local areas to set ambitious targets for improved dementia diagnosis. We must make England one of the best places in Europe for dementia care.'

Jill Batty’s husband Dominic, 84 was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 2004. She said:

'We were lucky to get an early diagnosis. Dominic is a retired dentist and, being medically trained, he was the first person to become worried about his memory. It was hard to pin-point what was happening but something wasn’t right, so he went to see his doctor. Once we had the diagnosis, we contacted the Alzheimer’s Society and received lots of help and information. Having an early diagnosis meant we had time to get the support we need.'

Alzheimer’s Society’s advice is to speak to your GP if you are worried about your memory and experiencing symptoms such as:
  • struggling to remember recent events (despite being able to recall things that happened in the past)
  • finding it difficult to follow conversations or programmes on TV
  • having problems thinking and reasoning and regularly forgetting the names of friends or everyday objects.
People who are worried about their memory can also contact Alzheimer’s Society’s National Dementia helpline on 0300 222 1122 or can visit alzheimers.org.uk/memoryworry