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Poor dementia care in hospitals costing lives and hundreds of millions

Published 17 November 2009

Woman with reassuring hand on man's back

People with dementia - who occupy a quarter of all hospital beds - are staying far longer in hospital than people without the condition who go in for the same treatment.

This is costing hundreds of millions of pounds to the NHS, an Alzheimer's Society report found today (Tuesday, 17 November 2009). Based on research involving 2,400 people,Counting the Cost: caring for people with dementia on hospital wards reveals large, costly variations in the quality of care for people with dementia. (alzheimers.org.uk/countingthecost

Poor hospital care also had a negative impact on the people's dementia and physical health. The majority of people with dementia leave hospital worse than when they arrive and a third enter a care home, unable to return home.

Alzheimer's Society is calling for all hospitals to reduce the average length of stay for a person with dementia by at least a week. The charity is also supporting calls from nurses to be equipped with the right training and tools to do the job.

Nurses told Alzheimer's Society that they want more access to specialist advice and help. 97 per cent of nurses work with people with dementia yet 80 per cent do not receive any or enough dementia training. 89 per cent of nurses said they found working with people with dementia very or quite challenging.

Alzheimer's Society is calling for cost savings gained to be reinvested in workforce development and more appropriate care in the community.

Neil Hunt, Chief Executive of Alzheimer's Society, says,

'It is shocking that people with dementia are occupying up to a quarter of hospital beds yet there are scandalous variations in quality of dementia care in hospitals. A million more people will develop dementia in the next ten years. The NHS needs to start taking dementia seriously.

'At least £80 million a year and probably hundreds of millions could be saved if people with dementia are enabled to leave hospital one week earlier. Hospitals must commit to reducing the length of stay if we are to stop people with dementia deteriorating in hospital and lessen the chance of people being discharged to a care home.'
Broadcaster, journalist and Alzheimer's Society Ambassador, Angela Rippon, who is supporting the campaign, says, 

'I know only too well how scary it can be for a person with dementia to go into hospital. It was awful watching my mother so vulnerable and frightened in this strange, noisy environment full of people she did not know.

Some people with dementia are not able to eat or drink due to a lack of appropriate dementia care and many are not being treated with dignity and respect. But good hospitals show us that with the right investment and training, quality dementia care is possible.'


Ann Reid, 63, from Eastbourne, whose mother has dementia, says,

'My mum quickly became confused and frightened in hospital. One day the staff left a sign next to her bed telling her: "you are not well, you need to stay in hospital. Just sit there, rest, relax and don't bang the table". My mum did not understand: she did not have her reading glasses with her and could not remember anything for more than two seconds.

'This was very upsetting for me - I nursed my husband through severe dementia until his death six months earlier. He too received poor care in hospital. He went in walking, and within ten days he was unable to walk and barely able to talk. I knew my mum deserved better.'


Counting the Cost: caring for people with dementia on hospital wards, based on a survey of 2,427 people with dementia, carers, nursing staff and nurse managers, found:

  • 47% of carers said being in hospital had a significant negative effect on the person with dementia's health.
  • 54% of carers said being in hospital had a significant negative effect on the person's dementia.
  • 77% of carers dissatisfied with the quality of dementia care.
  • 35% of carers complained and 38% would have liked to but didn't.
  • 36% of people with dementia who go into hospital from living in their own homes are discharged to a care home.
  • 34% of nurses don't receive enough dementia training.
  • 54% nurses don't receive any dementia training.
  • 89% nurses said people with dementia are treated with dignity and respect but 36% of carers said they were not.


(Breakdown of respondents: Carers - 1,291, Nursing Staff - 657, Nurse/Ward Managers - 479).

Find out more

Find out more at www.alzheimers.org.uk/countingthecost