Doctors who don’t bother to diagnose dementia

GPs are reluctant to diagnose patients with dementia because they feel there is nothing the NHS can do, a report reveals.

A quarter of doctors would consider avoiding sending someone for tests if they were unlikely to be offered any treatment or support afterwards.

A similar number say they would be unwilling to give patients a diagnosis if the condition was already very advanced and could not be slowed by drugs.

The report by the Alzheimer’s Society charity warns that tens of thousands of sufferers and their families are being failed by a lack of basic support from the NHS and local councils. It means many patients depend on relatives to be their full-time, unpaid carers helping them eat, dress and wash.

The lack of support – and the absence of a cure – means GPs are reluctant to diagnose the condition very early on for fear it will only cause anxiety for families.

Around 850,000 adults in the UK are believed to have dementia although fewer than two-thirds have been given a formal diagnosis.

The NHS has launched a number of initiatives to increase these rates in the hope that patients can be offered dedicated nursing care and drugs to temporarily halt the illness.

But today’s report reveals that this national drive is being hindered by a reluctance among GPs who are worried about labelling patients with what one described as a ‘curse’.

The survey of family doctors found that 27 per cent would consider avoiding sending patients for tests if there was a lack of care services in the area.

And 16 per cent would consider not diagnosing patients if they already had a long-term condition such as chronic heart disease or cancer.

A further 25 per cent would be reluctant to diagnose patients if the illness seemed already very advanced and 33 per cent would avoid doing so if they were in a care home.

The report suggested GPs were unwilling to tell patients they had dementia because they would not be able to refer them to any extra support from the NHS or social services.

A total of 77 per cent said patients with the condition were having to rely on family members as carers because they were not given enough assistance from the health service or local councils.

Only a handful of treatments can temporarily slow dementia’s progression, if given in the early stages.

But Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt believes up to a third of patients could benefit from these drugs and has urged GPs not to think a diagnosis is pointless. Doctors fear that making patients go through the ordeal of testing and a diagnosis will only cause unnecessary distress.

One GP wrote on the Pulse magazine website: ‘Giving a patient a curse of diagnosis of dementia then telling them there is no cure was never a good idea.’

Professor Nigel Mathers, of the Royal College of GPs, said family doctors should not be forced to make a diagnosis if they didn’t think it would help patients.

‘Diagnosis of dementia can be devastating for patients, their families and their carers – but it can be further exacerbated by the patchy provision of support services in some areas.’

Dr Alistair Burns, national clinical director for dementia at NHS England, said: ‘Our aim is that every person with dementia gets the best treatment and they, their families and carers get the best high quality support following the diagnosis.

“Pockets of the country are making exceptional progress by reshaping the services available for patients post-diagnosis but we would like to see support improved everywhere.’

Source Daily Mail

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