Top doctors to oversee dementia care

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A senior doctor will oversee dementia care in every hospital in England under new government plans to be announced today.

Health Secretary Alan Johnson and Care Services Minister Phil Hope will unveil the long-awaited National Dementia Strategy, which is aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment while saving almost £1bn.

It will stipulate a senior clinician in every hospital and care home to ensure that the needs of dementia sufferers are met.

There are currently around 700,000 people in the UK with dementia but the figure is rising as people live longer.

Today's strategy will also outline plans to provide more support to carers with the aim of preventing or delaying the admission of sufferers to care homes.

But a review of the use of anti-psychotic drugs - one of the most controversial aspects of caring for people with dementia in care homes - will not be published until the spring.

As previously announced, every GP will be trained to spot the first signs of dementia while "memory clinics" will be set up in every town to help sufferers live their lives as normally as possible.

Neil Hunt, chief executive of Alzheimer's Society, said today's announcement was a "momentous opportunity" to avert a "dementia crisis that could overwhelm the NHS and social care".

He added: "Government plans to appoint lead clinicians to champion dementia in hospital and care settings could transform the lives of hundreds of thousands of people.

"Over two thirds of people in care homes have dementia. Improving care could reduce hospital admissions, length of stays in hospitals and transform the quality of care being delivered."

Mr Hunt said that one in three people over 65 would die with dementia but there was currently a "systematic failure" to provide good dementia care in the UK.

The Alzheimer's Research Trust welcomed the strategy but said there was little in there about dementia research.

Chief executive Rebecca Wood said: "This strategy is only the first step to tackling our dementia crisis and it is a huge letdown that so much has been left out.

"It is astonishing that dementia research is not a fundamental component of this strategy, and disappointing that the review of antipsychotic drugs has been delayed yet again.

"It is not clear if sufficient funds will be made available to fulfil what is included in the strategy."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Health said the number of dementia sufferers would double in the next 30 years, with the costs of the illness tripling.

"Dementia is one of the most important issues we face as the population ages," she said. "That's why we're publishing the first National Dementia Strategy.

"It will set out how we can transform services, through a combination of better training, earlier intervention and real support for people with dementia and their families."

Bupa currently has almost 7,000 people with dementia in its 300 UK care homes, and around 75 per cent are state-funded.

Dr Graham Stokes, head of mental health for Bupa Care Services, said the company was working with the Alzheimer's Society to deliver a specialist dementia lead in its care homes during 2009.

"I welcome the principle of the National Dementia Strategy but the Government is still in danger of failing people with dementia and their families," he added.

Clare Moonan, Parkinson's Disease Society health policy and campaign manager, added: "Our main areas of concern for people with Parkinson's disease dementia (PDD) are twofold.

"Firstly, we believe that any new specialist dementia services must be fully integrated with neurology and care of the elderly services as part of a multi-disciplinary team, which can provide the right package of care. Otherwise people with PDD are in danger of being treated within movement disorder services and not benefiting from the treatments offered by these new posts.

"Secondly, we know that much more support is needed for carers of the one in three people with Parkinson's coping with the 'double whammy' of Parkinson's and some form of dementia in the UK. This is an extremely complex condition that requires a significant level of assistance and understanding."