Coronavirus: Alzheimer's Society call to the Government on the COVID-19 outbreak

Coronavirus could pose a significant risk for people living with dementia in the UK – the Government must prioritise their welfare in the coming weeks. Find out more from Sally Copley, Director of Policy, Campaigns and Partnerships at Alzheimer’s Society.

The money provided for NHS and local authorities to deal with coronavirus is good news but the Government needs to say how it’s going to be used to protect vulnerable people with dementia.

The Coronavirus pandemic could pose a significant risk for people living with dementia in the UK. The virus looks to have the most severe effect for older and vulnerable groups. 

Alzheimer’s Society has already been receiving calls to our Helpline asking how families can best support people with dementia through the outbreak.

With 95% of people living with dementia being over 65, the Government must prioritise their welfare in the coming weeks.

Three areas where Alzheimer’s Society believe support must be guaranteed

1. Support in social care

Two thirds of homecare users and 70% of people in care homes live with some form of dementia. It’s really important that the Government makes sure the care sector has the support it needs.
In the Budget on Wednesday 11 March, the Government committed a £5 billion fund to be available to the NHS and social care to support them in their efforts against the virus. However, we don’t yet know how this funding will reach the front line across the already-fragmented social care system. 
And with current huge staffing shortages across the sector we need to know what support is in place for care homes where staff develop or come into contact with coronavirus and need to self-isolate as a duty of care. 

Will Government guarantee pay for care home staff who are told to isolate themselves?

If, as suggested, students step in to plug the gaps, what support will they be given to guarantee the quality of care? 

The funding is a solution, the spending and availability of this money will dictate how we actually see people in social care protected.  

2. Support in the NHS

Bed availability in the NHS will be a huge issue through the outbreak. In the worst affected countries, we have already seen a real strain on hospitals. 

Just at the beginning of this year, Alzheimer’s Society shared our findings about the cost to the NHS of emergency admissions and delayed discharges for people with dementia, as a result of scarce care support in communities. 

Our figures show that over 379,000 emergency admissions in England were for people with dementia in 2017/18, up by a third in five years, with 40,000 people with dementia stranded for longer than a month. 

With beds now in much higher demand, will patients with dementia be the first to be discharged after being left stranded for so long?

Around a quarter of people in hospitals are thought to be living with dementia, so we need guarantees on how decisions on discharge will be made and what extra support there will be in community services. 

Often, we’ve worried about people with dementia stuck in hospital when they shouldn’t be there – now there could be a risk people are discharged before they’re ready or without the support they need. 

Above all we need to know that the rights of people with dementia will be protected throughout this outbreak. 

With hospitals stretched to breaking point, there could be a risk of the most vulnerable patients being deprioritised or denied lifesaving treatment for care in favour of other patients.

We need the Government to rule out making decisions like this based on people’s existing conditions. 

3. Support for families

There are 1.8 million unpaid carers in England, providing some level of support to a loved one living with dementia. Thousands of people across the UK rely on families for their dementia care. 

About a third of people living with dementia live alone. We need to know what support will be offered if family carers have to self-isolate to protect their loved ones.

Who will step in to plug the gap for people who don’t currently receive state support if family members can’t provide care during the outbreak?

It is already devastating that so many families have to turn to unpaid care following a lack of available social care. With no other choice, they may be left to choose between exposing their loved one to COVID-19 or leaving them without the support they need. 

I cannot imagine what that choice must feel like for carers who are already often fighting with the emotional and financial challenges of accessing good dementia care for their family. 

With two thirds of people living with dementia having reported feeling isolated and lonely, taking away any vital care from paid or unpaid help could contribute to decline and deterioration for people with a dementia diagnosis. 

Further advice

To support families who are worried about the outbreak, Alzheimer’s Society has shared this thread on Twitter and published an information page that answers some of the key practical questions.

Coronavirus has been unexpected to all of us and has placed great strain and worry on those vulnerable to it and their families. This is exactly why we need a reformed and vastly improved social care system that is designed to meet the needs of people affected by dementia. 

You can also join our campaign to end the dementia care crisis and to ensure the Government provides the support people living with dementia need all year round. 

Fix Dementia Care

Our Fix Dementia Care campaign aims to address the issues people with dementia face in the care system every single day. We want to hold the Government to account and ensure they Fix Dementia Care for good.

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