Advising with empathy and experience

Lack of dementia support.

Fresh concerns about the level of support that people with dementia and their carers get from the NHS and UK social services have been raised by GPs as the number of diagnoses continues to rise.

The Royal College of GPs also says that, until the situation improves, doctors will have to consider carefully whether there is any advantage in early diagnosis.

They were responding to a survey of GPs for the Alzheimer's Society which suggests that some patients are forced to rely on family, friends and unpaid carers due to gaps in services.

The government says that specialist dementia training has been been given to 600,000 NHS and social care staff in England.

GPs have a key role in co-ordinating care for people with dementia but the Royal College of GPs says that, in some places, services are collapsing under the pressure of more diagnoses.

Families and friends are a vital source of support but they mustn't be relied on to do everything, the Alzheimer's Society says.

The online survey, of around 1,000 family doctors, found they had wide-ranging concerns about levels of care.  Some felt there weren't enough local services to help their patients.

A quarter of doctors surveyed warned that when these services were not available they would be less likely to refer a person with suspected dementia to specialists to make a firm diagnosis.

Prof Nigel Mathers, of the Royal College of GPs called for improvements in the "patchy provision of support services in some areas.”

He said: "Until this can be delivered to all patients, regardless of where they live, GPs will have to continue weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of early diagnosis."

He argued previous evidence had shown that, unless a patient's wellbeing was improved by being given a diagnosis, one should not be forced upon them.

The Alzheimer's Society, which commissioned the survey, said the GPs' answers revealed a "deeply worrying lack of support available from health and social services, with relatives left to pick up the pieces alone.”